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The Suffolk Punch draft horse was developed by the farmers of Suffolk, England, who were isolated geographically and needed a horse to fit their special needs.
The Suffolk Punch plowed very heavy clay soil, and this required a horse with power and; good health, longevity and docility were of course also valued and bred for. Needing their horses to till and harvest their own lands, the farmers seldom had horses to sell. This kept the breed localized and relatively unknown but also pure.
The Suffolk Punch is the oldest breed of heavy horse existing today in Great Britain and the breed is still in it’s original state. The breed dates to the 1500’s but exact information about its ancestry has been lost. The entire breed does trace their male lines to one stallion, Thomas Crisp’s Horse of Ufford (Oxford), foaled in 1768.
It is however, inconceivable that the trotting Roadsters developed in East Anglia from the 1500’s on, as well as the heavier Flanders mares, did not play a part in the early development of the Suffolk Punch, both possessing much the same coloring as what became characteristic of the Suffolk, and Flanders horses were robust trotters too.
Pulling matches were popular in Suffolk in the 1700’s as well as in today’s world and the Suffolk horse equals the strength of any. A test common at the Suffolk fairs was to hitch the Suffolk Punch to a heavy, fallen tree. No, the tree did not have to be moved, but to pass the test, the horse had to get right down on his knees in what is considered the typical Suffolk drawing attitude.
The Suffolk is always chesnut (meaning chestnut, but spelled without a t in the middle as that is how it was originally entered in the stud book and the tradition has been maintained). A few white hairs well mixed with chestnut coloring on the body, a star, strip or blaze are allowed. Seven shades of chestnut are recognized bright, red, golden, yellow, light, dark and dull-dark.
Maturing early and enjoying a long life, the Suffolk Punch is an economical horse. Despite unquestionable stamina and power these individuals thrive on less feed that other heavy breeds need.
The legs are rather short, and the visual impression is that the body is too big for the legs and it is this that gave the breed its very great strength as well as its nickname. The English dictionary defines punch as a variety of English horse, short legged and barrel bodied a short, fat fellow.
Average height is from 16 to 17 hands. The legs are clean with no feather (and so wonderfully suited to work the heavy clay land). The head is quite large with a very broad forehead and a straight or slightly convex profile, with alert and relatively short ears. Skillfully developed by early breeders, the traction power of the Suffolk Punch is assisted by a low shoulder, skillfully developed by early breeders. The neck is deep and conforms exactly to the position of the shoulder.
The quarters of the breed are of obvious great strength, but the hind legs must be placed close enough together to allow the horse to walk within a plowed furrow, otherwise more will be kicked out than hoed. Standing on his powerful, short legs, with a wonderfully deep and round body, the roly poly Suffolk is among the most attractive of the heavy draft breeds.
Home to the breed is East Anglia, and this is still where the largest number are to be found. The Suffolk Horse Society was founded in 1877, and its office has always been in Woodbridge. The society publishes the stud book and encourages breeding by presenting premiums and grants.