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Why Not the Suffolk

Why Not the Suffolk?

by E.S. Akin, reprinted from The Breeder’s Gazette 1920

Enthusiasms embraced, what follows is an example of the substance, style and grace which was common to the critical writings of our agricultural golden age. It is missed. LRM


Why Not the Suffolk

If it is purebreds you are after, why not Suffolks?

The Suffolk horse is the purest-bred drafter in the world. Behind it stretches an authenticated line of unbroken history, into the stirring days of England’s travail to give birth to that sturdy British democracy which is standing the test so nobly today. Each link in the chain may be traced back to Thomas Crisp’s horse, foaled in 1768, the ancestor of every animal registered in the Suffolk stud book. America was but a coastline of colonies with all her tremendous history yet to make, when the Crisp horse was born. Eclipse had not yet won the King’s Plate at Newmarket course; not for a half-century would the Perche know its Jean-le-Blanc; Robert Bakewell was only thinking of improving the Leicestershire cart horse; not even the Lampits Filly had been foaled to become the ancestress of the Clydesdale race; the Belgian of today was undreamed of; Thomas Bates was yet unborn; the Hereford was still brockle-faced; it was another fifty years before Hugh Watson should become a tenant at Keillor. Nevertheless, the Suffolk farmer had his Suffolk horse, and was doing his best to pull fair farms out of the sea of heath which stretched from Norfolk southward to the Stour. Even in that day the Suffolk was chestnut, powerful, characteristically conformed – the world’s most noted agricultural drafter. It is not too much to suppose that in the dim age when old King Cole and “his fiddlers three” ruled East Anglica, the red horse was among his prized possessions. It means much to have whole centuries of pure breeding in the background of one’s operators; it ensures a uniformity of type which makes work with improved stock a pleasure born of hope continually fulfilled.

If it is strength in a drafter that you are after, why not the Suffolk?

Horses of the breed have power out of all proportion to their weight. Even a casual glance at their make-up will furnish the reasons for their fame as tug-stretchers. They are short-legged and close to the ground; the center of gravity is low, in accordance with a well-known mechanical principle which the designer of any movable engine must keep constantly in mind. The scientists tell us that the power which moves the equine engine comes from the thick, short gluteal muscles. The Suffolk is unsurpassed in the turn of his rump, while his thighs and quarters are more massively furnished than those of any other breed, thanks to the pulling contests common in England. There is ample boiler-room too in the Suffolk; indeed, there was so much middle that for many years they went by the name of Suffolk “Punch,” but the modern Suffolk is an improvement in type and weight as well as in name. To see five Suffolk mares hitched to a gang plow and steadily turning long black furrows stirs one profoundly. It is a demonstration of living power not easily forgotten. On the streets of London or Manchester one may see Suffolk geldings, gathered in Ipswich as likely as not, rendering long years of hard service in the dray. As a two-year-old a Suffolk gelding was champion at the Bushnell, Ill., horse show. In England they will tell you of a team of roomy Suffolk geldings which trotted side by side in a railway van in one of the eastern towns for eight long years, out early and late, but always in sound, fine fettle and on stone streets at that.

If it is stamina that you are after, why not the Suffolk?

For sheer stick-to-it-ive-ness a man must take his hat off to the chestnuts. They will keep pulling so long as there is anything to pull. It is bred into them. In Suffolk the farmer takes his horses to the field about 6:30 o’clock in the morning, and he keeps them going until “the lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea.” There is no stop for feed and water at noon. They make a full-day of it, with possibly a half-hour’s rest at 11 o’clock. The Suffolk needs no pampering; he does not lift his knees high enough to knock the bottoms out of his feet, and he is easy-going enough never to chafe at hard work. Enduring it is the best thing he does.

If it is an easy-keeper that you are after, why not the Suffolk?

He is famous for his stomach. It handles almost anything. The Suffolk is the least finicky of horses, and none will extract more ounces of energy from a given amount of oats, corn, straw, hay, a barn mash or plain roots. From year’s end to year’s end he will maintain good flesh, and do heavy work on a ration that would make a rack of bones out of horses constitutionally unlike him. In studying the feed and care given some of the largest studs of Suffolks in both England and this country I am constantly amazed at the breed’s easy-keeping qualities.

If it is longevity and prolificacy that you are after, why not the Suffolk?

It is a habit of the breed to live long. Not only do they live to extraordinary ages, but they live to some purpose. The stud book is full of startling instances. At one of the early Suffolk Agricultural Society’s shows they showed a brood mare and her foal; the matron was 37 years old when the foal was dropped. Webb’s Rising Star was foaled when his dam was a youngish mare of 22 summers. The mother of Loft’s Cupbearer produced sixteen foals in sixteen years. Julian Boxer is known to have made twenty-five seasons on the road. That the shy breeders in prizewinning and champion mares of other draft breeds are not common among Suffolks I have found to be the experience of the principal Suffolk breeders of both the east and middle west. Few Suffolk mares are kept solely for show purposes. Most of the International winners and champion Suffolk mares at the various state fairs do their full share of farm work, produce their annual foals and enter the showring in winning form, requiring less care and fitting than any other breed.

If it is docility that you are after, why not the Suffolk?

The breed’s gentleness and kindness of temper are proverbial. Docility is closely linked with intelligence and teachableness. Suffolk foreheads are notably broad, and therein lies brainpower. In the home of the breed, lines are not thought necessary to the proper management of a team. In the furrow or on the road one can see them in threes hitched tandem fashion, and not a rein in sight. The word of the driver and the comprehension of the horse thus combine to conserve considerable leather, and at what a compliment to the Suffolk temperament! Even Rarey, the great horse trainer, met his doom in a Suffolk. It is told how the old-time breeder Barthropp bought Hero from Moses Crisp as a three-year-old. Hero got soured in his temper, so they say, and as he was a famous prize-winner Rarey made haste to secure him as a subject to use before a great London audience. But Hero must have been an uncommonly sullen brute; at any rate, when Rarey got him on the tanbark he would show no ferocity whatsoever. Maybe Hero had more horse-sense than Rarey, after all. Anyhow, I should mightily have liked to witness that show.

If it is beauty that you are after, why not the Suffolk?

For grace of outline and exquisite blend of muscle-stuff the sorrel drafter has no superior. The intelligent head, the handsome crest, the beautiful topline, the stout coupling, the smartly-finished croup and thigh make of the Suffolk the real artist’s model for heavy horse conformation. Then the color– “chestnuts all and all chestnuts, with white facings as few as possible”–appeals strongly to most people. By way of relieving any possible monotony, we are allowed seven shades of it in our favorites, from the burnt chestnut to the light golden sorrel, or as the English had it in the first volume of the stud book, “the dark, at times approaching a brown-black, mahogany, or liver color; the dull dark chestnut; the light mealy chestnut; the red; the golden; the lemon; and the bright chestnut.” Who shall say that with those colors on his palette and a little white with which to set off a star, ratch, snip, strip, blaze or a white hind ankle, a breeder may not turn out a horse to catch your attention, in harness or out? In color and conformation the Suffolk fills the eye.

Why Not the Suffolk

Not always have I been a Suffolk enthusiast. With nearly forty years’ experience as an importer of and dealer in Percheron and Belgian horses I naturally tried to dissuade a friend of mine some years ago who came to me for advice about making quite a large importation of Suffolks. At his insistence I selected Suffolks in England for him after a careful study of the breed, type, and breeding. My respect for and admiration of Suffolks have increased each year since my first importation. The more I study these sturdy sorrels, the more I watch them in the harness, the more I check up on their feed and doctor bills, the more I watch the steadily growing demand for them, the more I am convinced that the Suffolk is on the way to a great future on American farms. For he is primarily a farmer’s horse–the only one of the draft breeds bred to supply the demand for an agricultural drafter. All the others have sought to produce a drafter to coax dollars from city teamsters, who have now forsaken their old friends and gone off after motor trucks and tractors. The invasion of the farm field by the internal combustion contrivances spells only good for the Suffolk. Grant the tractor everything which its wildest partisans claim for it, and you still have room on an ordinary-sized farm for at least two teams. They are indispensable. With the city demand somewhat curtailed, the farmer will have the time and incentive to produce a real agricultural drafter. No longer will he be satisfied to sell his best and keep the misfits at home. He will want a horse bred especially for his needs, a smart-looker in harness, easy to keep, easy to teach, easy to associate with, but never easy on the trace chains. Right to his hand he has such a horse ready-made, and his name is Suffolk. For the modern Suffolk, and the improvement in this breed for the past twenty years, all credit is due to a few men with large estates in Suffolk who have kept large studs of horses and were able to breed or buy champion stallions for their own use as well as their tenant farmers. To the late Alfred J. Smith of Rendlesham and Sir Cuthbert Quilter of Bawdsey, we owe the greatest benefit to the Suffolk breed through the champion stallions Saturn (2653) and Bawdsey Harvester (3076) and many other champion stallions sired by these great producers. Saturn was truly a planet of the first magnitude, and during his long life did heavy service in the stud of Mr. Smith, and I believe that he was the sire of the largest number of strictly high-class draft brood mares of any stallion among the various draft breeds. Bawdsey Harvester, although a comparatively young horse at the time of his death in 1912, left a mark of improvement on the Suffolk breed that has never been equaled.

Kenneth M. Clark of Sudbourne Hall and Arthur T. Pratt of Morston Hall are two of the most prominent Suffolk breeders in England, and for many years they have been loyal, enthusiastic workers in a large way for the improvement and increased production of Suffolks in England. The Suffolk breeding district in eastern England, especially Suffolk, while small in area, is fertile and extremely well cultivated.

The low, rich pastures, mostly along the rivers and the English Channel, are well adapted to the development of heavy horses. Some of these pastures, called marshes, are below sea level, and are protected by embankments. These pastures are productive, and mares and colts in large numbers are kept on them during the most of the year. Since the war, the English Government has taken over many of these large level pastures for aviation training grounds.

Crushed oats, roots, bran and clover, are favored by the English breeder, and by judicious feeding and care the size of the Suffolk has been increased. At present many of the best-bred Suffolks weigh around a ton, with some even larger. While all Suffolks do not attain to this size, the type, color and disposition are the same.

If you like uniformity in draft horses, you will like the Suffolk.

At the last New York State Fair there was a clinking display of the breed. Tuesday was Suffolk day. After the show the eastern men foregathered and organized the Eastern Suffolk Horse Club, with G. E. Phetteplace, Norwich, N. Y., as president; O. J. Brown, Baldwinsville, N. Y., vice-president; Owen Moon, Jr., Trenton, N. J., secretary-treasurer; and Julian d’Este of Boston, W. F. Young of Springfield, Mass., J. A. Haskell of New York City, and myself as directors.

It should not be forgotten that it does not require a fortune to get a start in Suffolks. The breed has been left almost severely alone by American dealers–because there was not enough money to be made in it. There are not more than 1,000 purebred Suffolks in the United States, and even in England the surplus is not large. That is another reason why the breed is not so well known in America; there are not enough horses to send out as object lessons. Personally, I hope to see Suffolk development take place by communities, rather than to be scattered all over the land, with good sires few and far between. When the farmers of a community become really interested in the breed, so that they will talk Suffolk, think Suffolk, work Suffolk and cooperate to improve the Suffolk, real progress is sure to be made.

As to bloodlines, that problem is simplified. I have already said that the Suffolk is the purest of breeds. Four times attempts have been made to introduce foreign blood– through the Blake strain (Lincolnshire trotting horse), the Wright’s Farmer’s Glory strain (Lincolnshire drafter), the Shadingfield strain (Thoroughbred) and the Martin’s Boxer strain (“out of a black blood mare”). But each time the alloy has failed. The Suffolk blood stream is too strong. It soon swallowed up the foreign elements, and they were gone, not one representative of any of them in the male line existing today. So that the breeder has here a powerful tool placed in his hands, making his responsibility all the greater.

It took Herman Biddle eighteen years to collect the facts and write his remarkable history of the Suffolk which appears in the first volume of the English stud book. But he undoubtedly gave us the most complete and authentic history to be had of any draft breed. Perhaps our greatest need on this side is a breed historian, or perhaps an honest propagandist fired to the depths with admiration for the breed. Who will be the American Herman Biddle?

Says an English authority: “For all purposes of British agriculture the Suffolk horse, smart between the shafts in harvest, a fast walker in the harrows after the drill, and a staunch slave at the collar, be it flour, timber, or chalk behind him, is unsurpassed by any breed of horses in England, or Scotland either.” We can reiterate that statement and fully adapt it to American conditions, if we will.