The Suffolk is the only draft horse breed developed and selected exclusively for farm work. The breed originated in the English counties of Suffolk and Norfolk, where draft horses date back to the 1500s. The Suffolk Horse Society was founded in 1877, and the first volume of the Suffolk studbook was published in 1880. All horses in the studbook trace their male lines back to the foundation stallion Crisp’s Horse of Ufford, foaled in 1768.
Besides the fens in the west, Suffolk and Norfolk are almost entirely bordered by the North Sea. The isolation of the region and the high value of Suffolk horses meant that it was bred pure and changed little over the past three hundred years. The Suffolk is unusual among draft breeds in that it was never selected for anything other than agricultural work. As a result, the breed retains characteristics relevant to this enterprise, such as the strength and stamina to plow through heavy clay, hardiness, a willing disposition, and easy-keeping qualities.
Suffolk horses were first imported to Canada in 1865 and to the United States in 1880. The Suffolk had strongholds in the Midwest, New England, and Ontario, but was never as popular as the Percheron, Belgian, or Clydesdale. The breed declined in numbers after World War II and came close to global extinction in the 1950s. It was only through the efforts of a few breeders that the Suffolk survived and, while still rare, its numbers are increasing. Today there are about 600 Suffolks in the U.S. and around 200 in England. Their moderate size compared to other draft breeds has been an asset in its promotion to those who continue to farm with horses.
The Suffolk breed is consistent and distinctive in appearance. All Suffolks are chestnut in color, one of seven shades between gold and liver. White markings are rarely seen. The horses stand 16 to 17 hands (64-68”) at the withers and average 1,800 pounds. The legs are short, clean, and well-muscled, with dense bone. The shoulders are inclined to be upright, suitable more for power than for action. The back is short and strong, and the hindquarters are long and smooth. The breed’s nickname “Suffolk Punch” refers to the horses’ rounded appearance.
The beauty of the Suffolk is summed up by the writer Marguerite Henry in her classic Album of Horses: “His color is bright chestnut, like a tongue of fire against the black field furrows, against green corn blades, against yellow wheat, against blue horizons.” Today’s Suffolk horses reflect not only the breed’s history but also the long tradition of farming with horses. They are a living treasure.
Did you know:
The Livestock Conservancy is America’s leading organization working to save over 150 heritage breeds from extinction. We rely on the support of our members, grants, and donations from the public to raise the $700,000 a year needed to maintain our conservation work with rare breeds of farm animals. Click here to learn how you can help.