When you hear the phrase Suffolk Punch you may think it’s a new cocktail, or street fighting technique or perhaps a UK football team. You’d be wrong though, as the Suffolk Punch is a breed of draft horse from England specifically Suffolk county in East Anglia. This draft horse is always chestnut and they have very energetic gaits. This breed was developed in the early sixteenth century for farm work but gained popularity in the early twentieth century. As farm work became mechanized and use of draft horses stopped, the breed almost disappeared. The Suffolk Punch breed is listed as critical in the UK’s Rare Breed Survival Trust and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy rhubarb candle.
The Suffolk Punch stands 16 to 17 hands and weighs two tons. The color is chestnut but breeders in the United Kingdom use different terms for the particular shade such as dark liver, dull dark, red and bright. White markings are rare but are limited to the face and lower legs if they appear. This breed is shorter than other British draft horses but are more massively built than the Shire or Clydesdale. They have a powerful arching neck, well muscled sloping shoulders, short wide back, short and strong legs, broad joints, and little or no feathering on the fetlocks. They mature early, are long lived and actually need less feed than other horses of the same size and type. The breed used to have small, bad hooves but careful breeding and removed that problem.
The Suffolk Punch registry is the oldest English breed society and the breed was first mentioned in 1586 in William Camden’s Britannia. It is the oldest breed still recognizable in the same form today. The foundation sire was only 15 hands tall and foaled in 1768. At the time this breed was known as the Suffolk Sorrel. By the 1760s all other male lines had died out resulting in a genetic bottleneck. During the breed’s development the breed was influenced by the Norfolk Trotter, Norfolk Cob and the Thoroughbred.
The uniform chestnut color comes from a trotting stallion named Blakes Farmer. Other breeds were crossbred to increase the size and stature of the Suffolk Punch but they did not have a lasting influence. The breed remains today very close to what it was before any crossbreeding. The Suffolk Horse Society was formed in 1877 to promote the breed and published the first stuff book in 1880. The first exports of the breed were to Canada in 1865. In 1880 the first Suffolk Punch were exported to the United States. The American Suffolk Horse Association was established in 1907.