Back when the Suffolk Punch horse was the engine of the farm, it was the mares and geldings which did all the hard work. The stallion had only one purpose. Most farmers wouldn’t own a stallion, but instead relied on the services of a stud horse when they wanted to breed from their mares. During the spring, the stallion leader, an employee of the farm or stud who owned the stallion, would take his charge on a walking tour of the district, travelling from farm to farm, offering his services along the way, stabling at inns or sleeping in barns. The size of the fee commanded would, of course, be linked to his stallion’s lineage and breeding history, and any success he’d had in the show ring.
Bruce Smith was the Stud Groom (manager) at Hollesley Bay Stud, now The Suffolk Punch Trust, between 1978 and 2011. He personally oversaw the breeding and delivery of more than 200 Suffolk foals, and is one of the few people alive today who can still, even at 74, handle a plough behind a team of Suffolks.
The current Stud Groom at the Suffolk Punch Trust is Tracey Pettitt, and Besthorpe Achilles is her 14 year-old senior stallion. At 17.2 hands he stands well over the typical height for his breed and his sheer physical presence is awe-inspiring. Achilles won Supreme Champion at the Suffolk Show in 2010, 2012 and 2014, amongst other title wins around Suffolk and the Royal Norfolk Show. He has sired more than 20 foals who are beginning to have success in the show ring themselves and who also show the gentle and willing personality for which Achilles is renowned.
The Suffolk Punch horse shaped the landscape around us, helped keep our bellies full for centuries, and even died in their thousands alongside our soldiers on the WW1 battlefields of France, hauling artillery to the front lines. There are only about 500 Suffolk Punch horses still in existence, including 80 breeding mares and so the fate of Britain’s oldest horse breed is hanging precariously in the balance. It would be a tragedy, some might even argue an outrage, if we lost this wonderful horse. It’s imperative that we find a modern day role for them, and, in the meantime, keep funding the efforts of organisations like The Suffolk Punch Trust and others who maintain the iconic breed.