Expert fears we could lose the Suffolk Punch

Nigel Oakley with Suffolk Punch mare mare Withersfield Ruby and her  foal Withersfield Brigadier in 2014
Nigel Oakley with Suffolk Punch mare mare Withersfield Ruby and her foal Withersfield Brigadier in 2014

The Suffolk Punch horse is now so rare we will lose it if more and younger people do not get interested in breeding them, an expert has warned.

The Rare Breeds Survival Trust, which has the Suffolk in its most ‘at risk’ category, recently said that between 2014 and 16 there were twice as many colt foals as fillies (females). But Nigel Oakley, who has 10 Suffolks at Rede Hall near Bury St Edmunds and still ploughs with them, said that is not the real danger.

“This year 25 foals were registered and of those 16 where fillies,” he said. “So there wasn’t a mare imbalance but the real issue is that it is a category one rare breed and only 25 were born.

“The Suffolk horse is now in such low numbers that they won’t be here for our grandchildren. There are more black rhinos.”

Though numbers have more than doubled, to about 500, since he bought his first 40 years ago, he says the challenge is getting people to breed them and getting young people interested.

“They are a luxury – people keep them purely to keep the heritage alive,” he said. “But youngsters have a job to afford a house never mind a heavy horse.

“It’s difficult to increase the owning membership of the Suffolk Horse Society. I’m in my mid-70s and do training days because, unless the knowledge is passed on it will die away.”

The Suffolk Horse Society funded DNA research so breeders can see if a mare and stallion are too closely related, and it gives grants to encourage breeding.