A farm animal famous for its strength, stamina and easy temperament — but rarer than the giant panda — the Suffolk Punch is the oldest breed of English working horse. The animal has short legs, muscular shoulders and a chestnut-coloured coat, which varies in shade from dark to light. As its name suggests, the breed originated in the county of Suffolk in southeast England, and the word ‘punch’ was used in the mid-17th-century to mean a short, sturdy person or animal. It is not certain when the horse was first bred, but references to the Suffolk Punch can be found as far back as 1586.
up to 1,000 kilos
Also known as the Suffolk Horse or Suffolk Sorrel, the Suffolk Punch was originally used for farm work such as ploughing fields and pulling heavy loads. It is a ‘clean-legged’ breed, with no long hairs that could become soiled by the mud and the earth. Standing around 1.65-1.78 metres high, the horse has a long life expectancy of twenty-five to thirty years, is gentle by nature and weighs around 900-1,000 kilograms.
During the First World War, Suffolk Punches were used for pulling guns and supply wagons. As mechanised tractors became more common, horses were used less and less for farm work. Many Suffolk Punches were sent abroad for slaughter. By 1966, there were just nine foals registered in the UK. Two bloodlines died out, but thanks to the hard work of a few dedicated farmers and breeders, these iconic horses have survived.
All of today’s Suffolk Punches can trace their lineage back to a single stallion called Crisp’s Horse, foaled in 1768 and named after the landowner who owned him. They are still endangered, with fewer than five hundred pure-bred horses remaining in the UK, and they rarely plough fields. You can view them, however, at promotional events, agricultural shows or working as aids in ecoforestry, helping to restore forests to standards suitable for sustainable harvests.