With Jason Rutledge coming to speak about restorative forestry and his use of the Suffolk Punch draft horse, I decided to look closer at this rare breed of horse. The Suffolk Punch is known for its large frame, docile nature, and strong work ethic.
Mature horses typically stand 16-17 hands (about 5 ½ to 6 feet) tall and weigh between 1,600 to 2,000 pounds. They are universally chestnut in color, ranging from a light red to dark brown, with virtually no white markings except for the occasional white around the feet.
The breed originated in the eastern portion of England and the “Punch” comes from the horse’s solid appearance. The breed has been around for centuries with William Camden’s Britannia describing a horse to meet the Suffolk Punch standard in 1586. This makes the Suffolk Punch one of the oldest breed of horse that has also remained unchanged in characteristic.
Early farmers crossbred horses to achieve the Suffolk Punch and the isolated Suffolk region leant to the breed remaining largely unchanged and unknown to other areas. Used mainly on family farms for its strength and durability, the Suffolk Punch continued to remain a localized breed as it was rarely sold or traded. Suffolk Punches were also used to haul large scale artillery during the First World War. However, after WWII, and the mechanization of farming and many other industries led to dwindling numbers of pure Suffolk Punch horses both in Europe and the United States.
The breed eventually made its way to America but never amassed the popularity of other horse breeds. Suffolks also were exported to other European countries such as Germany, France, Belgium, Russia, and even parts of Africa and New Zealand. They were crossbred with native horses to produce breeds such as the Jutland and Oppenheimer. Recently, Suffolks were even sent to Pakistan to be bred with local horses to help improve native breeds.
Suffolk Punch horses are commonly used for hard work such as plowing fields. They have also been used in forestry, to haul logs and fallen trees, such as what Rutledge does. Some even use them to pull sleighs in snow. The Suffolk Punch’s work ethic has been quoted as “work till they drop” and can withstand lots of manual labor.
The Suffolk is currently on the Rare Breed Survival List in England and remains one of the rarest horses on the continent. The Suffolk Punch faces a similar dilemma here in the states, but thanks to devoted breeders and horse registries, the numbers are seeing an increase.