The Suffolk & Its Heritage
As the oldest breed of heavy horse in Great Britain, the Suffolk dates from the sixteenth century. All animals alive today can trace their male lines back to just one stallion, Crisp’s Horse of Ufford, who was foaled in 1768.
We know this thanks to the work of Herman Biddell, first Secretary of the Suffolk Horse Society, who spent two years tracing the pedigree of all animals alive at the time. These findings he published in Volume 1 of the Suffolk Stud Book, recognised as the classic amongst livestock books. He prefaced the book with a fascinating history of the breed, and a contemporary account of the Suffolk and the people associated with it. The book was illustrated by the Ipswich artist, John Duvall.
At the height of its popularity there were huge numbers of Suffolks in East Anglia, and the relative remoteness of the area, isolated from the rest of the country till well into the twentieth century, helped retain the purity of the breed, although it also limited it's numbers outside of the area.
In the late 1930s, the Suffolk did start to move out of East Anglia in a major way with new studs being started in a number of areas, but agricultural mechanisation was now looming. The need for a big increase in food production caused by the Second World War stimulated this and the large, level arable farms of East Anglia were ideal for early machinery. Mass mechanisation dealt the Suffolk a severe blow and numbers fell dramatically, with large farms getting rid of forty horses in a single day. This led to a glut of horses on the market and the only buyers were the slaughter houses.
In 1966 only nine Suffolk foals were born. Extinction was imminent.
With this realisation, new breeders came to the rescue, so that since that time the numbers have slowly risen. However, it takes a very long time to secure a breed from such a very low number of animals, so the situation is still far from safe. The critical situation of the Suffolk's survival is recognised by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, who have placed the Suffolk on their Critical Watch List.
The Suffolk Horse Society has benefitted from a national initiative by the Heritage Lottery Fund called “All Our Stories” to promote interest by a wide range of people in their local heritage. The scheme was launched earlier this year in support of BBC Two’s programme The Great British Story so that community groups can explore and celebrate their local heritage.
The description of the characteristics of a livestock breed is commonly referred to as the Breed Standard. The characteristics define the breed allowing differentiation between other livestock animals of the species. They cover externally observable qualities. Breed standards help define the ideal of a specific breed. They can change and be updated over time.