Suffolk Show 2018: Visitors admire Suffolk Punch at new Heavy Horse village
- Credit: Archant
The critically endangered Suffolk Punch was centre stage at this year’s brand new Heavy Horse Village – the biggest ever area dedicated to the iconic breeds at the Suffolk Show.
The idea, championed by heavy horse head steward Mark Donsworth, was to bring visitors closer to the majestic animals and their handlers to encourage greater interest in the attraction.
Horse-lovers were able to ask questions of the owners directly in a unique one-to-one experience, as well as watching farriers at work, and horses being cleaned, groomed, harnessed and manes braided.
With dwindling interest in the breeding of working horses across the country, it was encouraging to see an unprecedented eight teams compete.
The heavy horses competition attracted healthy numbers this year with 21 competing in just one class.
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Mr Donsworth said: “Across the country there are 24/25 people running these teams.
“We have managed to get eight teams to ours. It’s amazing in little old East Anglia,”
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18-year-old Holly Lutkin, from Beccles, won first prize in the Percherons Yearling competition with her heavy horse Bonnie.
She said it was good to see organisers encouraging a greater presence of heavy horses at the show.
“It’s probably the strongest Percherons class I’ve had here for quite a few years,” she said. “So it’s nice to have plenty of competition.”
With handlers likely to have risen at 4am for feeding, every precaution was taking to ensure the kings of the field looked their best for the show.
Shire and Clydesdale horses were treated to another wash of their ‘feathers’ (the hair around their hooves) before drying off with sawdust – and for the harness and turnout classes, the buffing of the brass could take up to a staggering eight hours.
Centre of attention was the beloved Suffolk Punch – now rarer than the Giant Panda, and risking extinction by 2027 if numbers continue to decline.
As Britain’s oldest native horse, the Suffolk Punch can be traced back to 1768 when it was used to plough fields and pull heavy carts.
However as times have changed and interest in breeding has gone downhill, the Punch has gone into rapid decline – with only 23 foals born last year and a global population of less than 500.
Peter Webb, a volunteer for the Suffolk Horse Society and Suffolk Punch fan, said: “If you can tell a story to the public about what they were there for, how they worked, you’ll keep the audience.
“Why does an eight to 10 year old need to know why a pint of milk doesn’t just come from Tesco’s? Why do they need to know a Suffolk Punch horse used to be the power of the land? The answer is: you have to have a vast experience of the world – and history is a huge part of it.”