Graceful Suffolk Punch horses set to work
Weighing in at a tonne apiece, powerful Suffolk Punches William and Bruce may not appear to be the most delicate of animals. But as the beautiful rare breeds weaved their way through a Suffolk woodland yesterday dragging trunks up to 50ft long behind them, it soon became apparent that they possessed a light touch and flexibility unmatched by any machine.
Weighing in at a tonne apiece, powerful Suffolk Punches William and Bruce may not appear to be the most delicate of animals.
But as the beautiful rare breeds weaved their way through a Suffolk woodland yesterday dragging trunks up to 50ft long behind them, it soon became apparent that they possessed a light touch and flexibility unmatched by any machine.
Excited pupils from The Old School in Henstead were given the rare chance to help lead gentle giants William and Bruce into the woods as they prepared to start work, and watch in wonder as the horses pulled their load along at a brisk pace.
The pair had been drafted in specially for a few days to remove sycamore trees that were being thinned out to make way for more native species such as oak, ash and sweet chestnut.
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Daniel Bunting, who was working the horses, taught the youngsters that Suffolk Punches were capable of pulling twice their own body weight on a direct pull and were ideally built for such work.
'The Suffolk Punch is a breed of East Anglia - the breed of the region - and it has been bred to work the land of East Anglia,' he said. 'The idea of using the horses is that when it goes over the ground it's not like using a heavy tractor. We go in there and pick up and take the trunks out without damaging the ground where all the bulbs are.'
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He said their gentle touch left bluebell, fern and narcissus bulbs undisturbed, and that the horses' work would benefit not only the undergrowth but also the native trees that would thrive from the thinning and the wildlife that relied on those species.
Their help was enlisted by the owners of Worlingham Hall woodland near Beccles, who are working to manage their land and restore it with native plants and animals.
Seven-year-old Sjaak Leggett who held one of the horses as it prepared to pull its load, said he enjoyed the experience, adding: 'It felt like it was really strong.'
Emily Coleman, six, said: 'I think I imagined them to be like that, I think they're really nice. They're working horses.'
Mr Bunting said that the 15 Suffolk Punches that belong to the long-established Bunting & Sons, based in Colchester, are all working horses and are taken around the country to do agricultural work, country shows, weddings and filming. More glamorous assignments include helping with tree-planting at Kew Gardens and an appearance at
this year's Sandringham Flower Show.
He highlighted the plight of the breed, saying that with 450 Suffolk Punches left in the world, they are in the same category of endangered species as the giant panda, adding: 'We work hard to promote the Suffolk Punch and try to get people to understand how rare it is.'
Visit www.horkesleypark.co.uk to find out more about Bunting & Sons and www.suffolkhorsesociety.org.uk to learn about Suffolk Punches.