After a couple of days of wet and unsettled weather we were very lucky to see the sunshine again on our afternoon visit to the Suffolk Punch Trust at Sink Farm, Hollesley, near Woodbridge.
On arrival we were served tea and biscuits and welcomed by Julia Vinson, the visitor centre manager, who told us about the Trust.
Suffolk Punches are so-called first – because of their origins in this part of East Anglia, and second – the word “Punch” from their solid appearance and strength as a heavy draught horse, in fact they are the largest of all the working breeds.
There are only about 450 purebred Suffolk Punch horses worldwide today, so it is vital to keep this rare breed from extinction by running a consistent and well-established breeding programme. The aim of the Trust as an educational and environmental charity is to do just this, as well as preserving the history of the breed, and training volunteers and staff in the handling of these wonderful horses.
The Colony stud and farm at Hollesley have played an important part in the development of farming and rural life in Suffolk from as long ago as the 1750’s when the Barthrop family introduced Suffolk Punches to the estate at Hollesley. They were used for working the farm and for breeding. Over the years the farm has changed hands a number of times, most recently being run by the Prison Service where inmates worked with the horses and ran the farm with its dairy herd, pigs and a variety of crops as part of their rehabilitation.
However, in 2000 the Prison Service decided to stop all farming operations and put the Estate up for sale, but in order to keep with tradition and maintain the successful and renowned breeding group of Suffolk Punches, they gave the newly-formed Suffolk Punch Trust time to raise enough money to buy the stud and 188 acres of farm. Donations and support came from many people including HRH the Princess Royal and TV Presenter Paul Heiney.
After several years’ restoration work and the construction of a purpose built Visitors’ Centre, The Suffolk Punch Trust opened to the public.
Julia then introduced us to one of the volunteer workers, Jo Kelleway, who took our group on a tour of the farm. We had a wagon ride round the fields where we saw several Suffolk Punches enjoying the sunshine.
After the ride we went to see one of the newest foals with her mother. Her name was Colony Boo, as “B” is the initial letter for foal names this year. (Next year it will be “C”). All the horses bred at Hollesley have the prefix name “Colony” before their own name, and this is followed by a number which is all part of their pedigree registration. Even at 5 weeks old, Boo seemed very large and leggy, but quiet and calm in the barn with her mother, Colony Vee. She is the first foal of this season, although we were told that other mares were expecting over the next few weeks. We saw some of these mares in the stables nearby, each with a characteristic white blaize or star on their foreheads, and all with their lovely chesnut colouring. (Spelt without the “t”)
Jo then took us round an exhibition in one of the barns where there were various wagons, farm implements and carts all for use with horses, although redundant these days with the advent of modern machinery.
We had a cream tea at the cafe, and looked round the rural life museum and the heritage garden, where many of the plants grown are native particularly to Suffolk.
After a very full afternoon we set off home along the lanes in dappled sunshine, sadly not in a horse-drawn carriage!