Image from Encyclopedia of the Horse, edited by Elwyn Hartley Edwards, second edition, published 1994.

If you’ve ever flipped through a horse breeds encyclopedia, you probably came across the Suffolk Punch, a rare heavy breed of horse from England. But why is it called a “punch”?

Actually, most people who work to preserve the Suffolk breed call them Suffolk Horses. “Punch” is a shortened version of an Old English descriptive term, “punchy,” which refers to the Suffolk’s body type.

A “punchy” is a type of horse that is short-legged and barrel-bodied, an accurate description of the Suffolk Horse. The horse may appear as though its legs are too short for its body, which enables it to hunker down and pull a very heavy load. The average height is 16.1 hh, but stallions may be 17 hh or taller. Individuals can weigh up to a ton.

Suffolk Punch Australia says there are about 440 Suffolk Horses in England, most of which are located in and around Suffolk County, and approximately 2,000 Suffolks in the U.S. They are generally bred to be working horses that excel at pulling heavy loads. Unlike other draft breeds commonly found in the U.S., Suffolks have not been developed into different, often longer-legged, body types for the show ring. As a result, they have retained their “punchy” body type over centuries.

Pair of Suffolk Horses

Photo by Amanda Slater

All Suffolk Horses are chestnut, but there are seven shades of chestnut noted within the breed: Light, yellow, gold, copper, red, dark, and liver.

Over 250 years ago, Suffolk Horses were introduced to the Hollesley estate in Suffolk County. The horses have been bred on the same land since then, even as the farm changed hands and served as an agricultural college, work and training site for unemployed workers, and eventually the HM Hollesley Prison.

The Suffolk Punch Trust was created in 2002 to purchase the land and horses that were previously managed and bred by the HM Hollesley Prison. With the help of HRH Princess Anne and British TV host Paul Heiney, money was raised to buy the farm in 2006 and the Visitors’ Centre opened in 2010. Its purpose is to showcase and preserve the Suffolk Horse and educate the public about East Anglian agricultural history. You may donate funds to their effort at the Trust website.

Learn about American Suffolk breeders from the North American Suffolk Horse Association.

In the 7-minute video below you’ll see a variety of these beautiful horses at home in England: