Suffolk Punch foal is a welcome boost for an endangered horse breed
White Rose Phoenix was instrumental in increasing the numbers of Suffolk Punch, England’s oldest breed of working horse, when it was born last month. He is the first Suffolk foal to be born in Yorkshire for 40 years.
The breed falls into the Rare Breeds Survival Trust ‘Priority 1’ category, which is considered to be of greatest concern due to its rarity and increased inbreeding.
The foal’s owners, Sally and Toby Bates of Driffield, hope the foal grows up to show just how versatile the Suffolk Punch is as a versatile riding and riding horse, and that one day it can be used to breed his own foals.
Phoenix (“Pheo”) was conceived by artificial insemination (AI) at Rainbow Equine Hospital, which is part of VetPartners.
The foal was named after veterinarian Phoebe O’Sullivan, who performed the AI procedure at the hospital last spring and looked after her dam, Holbeache Mirabelle (Miri), throughout her pregnancy. This involved Miri following a tailored exercise program and taking medication to create the perfect conditions in her uterus for an embryo to develop.
“I could tell the foal was big”
Miri started showing signs of childbirth at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 9, and Sally took on the role of midwife with Phoebe speaking to her throughout the birth over the phone.
Phoebe said, “Sally put her phone on speakerphone and put it in the straw, then described everything she could see. I was also listening to Miri’s breathing, and after 20 minutes I could tell the colt was quite big, so I asked Sally to give Miri a hand.
“The birth went pretty well, but Sally just needed to apply a little pressure to help her. She did a great job, although I found it more difficult to tell someone about a foal than to be there and do it myself!
Phoebe visited Phoenix when Sally reported that he was having trouble breastfeeding. Phoebe soon got him on his feet and made sure he drank some vital first milk called colostrum, which contains antibodies to protect him from disease.
Phoebe added, “It was very exciting to have been involved in this journey, to help Miri be full until she was there right after Phoenix was born. Everyone at Rainbow is thrilled to have played a part in the preservation of this rare breed.
Pheo is from the Suffolk Punch stallion Colony Cuthbert.
Sally said: “Pheo is just perfect. He’s strong, healthy and very likeable just like Miri.
Versatile riding horses
Suffolk Punch horses were once popular for tillage, but when tractors returned to farm work their numbers declined. However, Sally and Toby and other fans of the breed are keen to safeguard its future and spread the news that they can make a brilliant and versatile riding horse.
Miri, whom they have owned for five years, loves to hack and successfully competes in dressage and affiliated dressage competitions.
The Bates also have another Suffolk Punch, Dunkirk Gold Dust (Dusty) and they hope to get both full mares next year, again with help from Rainbow Equine Hospital.
To thank their vet for all of their hard work, the Bates took the first four letters of Phoebe’s name to name the foal Phoenix.
Sally added, “Phoebe was amazing and always a phone call away if we needed any help or advice and it made such a difference to us as new breeders.”
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