The pulling power of the Suffolk Punch
PUBLISHED: 09:02 29 April 2014
The iconic horse that now draws crowds rather than a plough
It’s nearly time for the Suffolk Show, one of my favourite events of the year.
It’s such a great day out and showcases all that is wonderful about our county, past and present, including local food, magnificent farm animals, showjumping, rabbits, beekeepers, Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s wildlife area, the WI food tent and more.
I particularly like to see the shiny, new high tech agricultural machinery alongside iconic Suffolk Punch horses. Together they’ve been important features of our countryside over the past couple of centuries. Recently on my show I heard about a week in the life of a tractor driver and about an oral history project recording the memories of Suffolk horsemen.
Colin Andrews has been going to work on a tractor since leaving school 35 years ago and he obviously still loves his job with a passion. The tractors he drives have improved hugely over the decades and these days even use satellite technology to ensure every bit of the field is worked. The cabs are the height of luxury (my words not his) with air conditioning, a radio and a phone. Mind you, the operators do need to be comfortable because they can be working up and down the fields for up to 12 hours a day.
Colin spends most of the year preparing the soil for potato planting. His tractor tows a clever bit of kit that takes stones out of the soil ridges where the seed potatoes are planted and then puts them in the troughs where the tractor wheels go. Next time you enjoy your roast potatoes spare a thought for Colin.
It’s not that long ago that de-stoning would have been done by young lads and the farm machinery would have been pulled by heavy horses. Originally we used oxen as beasts of burden but – a fascinating fact I learnt only the other day – the horse became more popular because it was easier for the blacksmith to shoe. Oxen can’t stand on three legs but horses can.
Jeff Hallett of The Suffolk Horse Society, and a team of volunteers with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund have spent the last year or so tracking down people who worked with Suffolks. The horsemen were hugely respected and kept their medicines and training methods top secret so there was a real sense of mystery about their equestrian skills. Now their stories have been recorded for ever.
Another organisation doing their best to ensure the survival of the Suffolk Punch is the Suffolk Punch Trust. They bought the stud at Hollesley and have since built a visitor centre where Suffolk Punches can be seen galloping around the fields along with other Suffolk breeds. They own 17 Suffolks, including one stallion, and last year produced 12 foals, 30% of the foals registered last year.
The people behind the trust have worked hard to save the stud and make it a going concern as a tourist attraction, so if you haven’t visited yet why not go this summer? If you can’t make it to Hollesley, there should be some of their magnificent horses at the Suffolk Show, so go and say hello. See you there!