Special gift to the Queen

SUFFOLK'S momentous day is approaching - the day it will present the gift of a rare, powerful and beautiful horse to the Queen.The majestic chesnut Suffolk horse, known affectionately as the Suffolk Punch, is part of the region's heritage.

SUFFOLK'S momentous day is approaching - the day it will present the gift of a rare, powerful and beautiful horse to the Queen.

The majestic chesnut Suffolk horse, known affectionately as the Suffolk Punch, is part of the region's heritage.

But with only around 300 registered Suffolk horses left in the country, the breed is in a critical condition.

Now filly foal Whitton Poppy, born and bred on a farm near Ipswich, will be making her way to Hampton Court on Monday.


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She is being given to Queen Elizabeth II as a gift from the members of the Suffolk Horse Society.

The idea came after Suffolk farmer Tom Walne happened to get into conversation with the Queen last year.

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Tom Walne, 69, of Ipswich, said: "I met the Queen at Bury St Edmunds last July - on her Jubilee visit.

"I was asked by the Suffolk Agricultural Association to take my mare, Golden Harvest Girl - known as Gertie - to meet the Queen.

"In my conversation I suggested that perhaps she would like to have Suffolk Punches back at Sandringham.

"The Suffolk Horse Society took this up and asked if the Queen would take this up if the members made a gift of one."

Sure enough, Gertie's foal - Whitton Poppy - was duly selected.

The Queen's love and affection for Suffolk is well known and she is a frequent visitor to the county.

Owner Mr Walne, who runs Walnut Tree Farm in Old Norwich Road on the edge of Ipswich, is now preparing for the day he will part with his eight-month-old filly and drive her to Hampton Court.

He said: "We feel happy and sad. I am sad that I am going to part with my filly, but there is no way we can afford to keep her. So she has got to be sold - and there is no better home."

His partner Sandy Hewett, 56, echoed these sentiments.

She said: "Half of me is ever so pleased with the home she will have, but the other half of me sad that she is going to go. I feel a bit responsible for her.

"We were both there on the morning she was born and it is just a big wrench."

Martin Goymour, chairman of the Suffolk Horse Society, hopes it will help raise the profile of this endangered breed.

He said: "The members of the Suffolk Horse Society thought it was a good idea.

"Suffolk horses are in short supply - there are only about 300 registered in this country - and it is the ultimate agricultural horse.

"But since the end of the Second World War, numbers have declined with the advent of tractors.

"Princess Anne has Suffolks at her estate, as does Prince Charles. We thought it would be fitting to make this offer to the Queen because as a young lady, she had Suffolks.

"We are truly pleased and honoured that she has accepted this living Suffolk.

"I think this will help their profile - obviously Suffolks are the horse to have."

People will be able to take a last look at Poppy on Sunday , before she makes her momentous journey to Hampton Court.

Mr Walne will be displaying her from 12pm until 2pm at Walnut Tree Farm in Old Norwich Road, just outside Ipswich.

Facts

The Suffolk horse dates back to at least the sixteenth century.

All Suffolks alive today trace their male lines back to one stallion - Crisp's Horse of Ufford, foaled in 1768.

The Suffolk is always chesnut, traditionally spelt with no 't' after the 's', and can be one of seven shades - bright, red, golden, yellow, light, dark and dull dark.

Its short legs give it great strength, but also the impression that its body is too big for its legs - hence the nickname of the Suffolk Punch.

A mature horse can weigh up to a tonne.

The Suffolk horse has a very good temperament as well as having a long working life and being economical to feed.

Suffolks were once around in huge numbers in East Anglia, but the need for more food production after the Second World War led to the mechanisation of many farms. But this dealt a severe blow to the breed, whose numbers dropped dramatically.

There are only about 300 registered Suffolk horses in the country - and only about 75 breeding females.

The Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) - a charity set up to conserve Britain's native livestock heritage - lists the breed as being in a critical condition.

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