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.

Pair of Suffolk Horses

Photo by Amanda Slater

The American Suffolk Horse Association says there are only 150 Suffolk Horses in England, most of which are located in and around Suffolk County, and approximately 800 to 1200 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.

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 in Suffolk County. The Trust is trying to turn the facility into a visitors’ center that showcases and preserves the Suffolk Horse and educates the public about East Anglian agricultural history. You may donate funds to their effort at the Trust website.