Supporting vulnerable horses - Ernie the Suffolk

New Forest ponies, Shire horses and Cleveland Bays are amongst 14 horse and pony breeds now considered vulnerable or minority. See the full equine watchlist here. We spoke to Claire, a rare horse breed owner trying to raise awareness for these endangered breeds.

In 2017, I was looking for my first horse. I had the usual shopping list of qualities in mind but quickly realised that finding a horse with a good temperament was most important for me. A friend had told me how Suffolks are bred to be sane and sensible, so I contacted the Suffolk Horse Society to enquire. A short while later I had a call and went to meet Ernie. (Pictured below) From the very first ride he made me feel safe and confident - he was only 7 at the time.

Now three years later, Ernie stands proudly at 17.1hh and weighs just short of a metric tonne at 947kg - so perhaps not the horse for you if you prefer finer breeds! Riding a Suffolk is an incredible experience. These horses are so intelligent that you can teach them all of the subtle control needed in the saddle. A big advantage is that their movement is so big and deliberate, when the riding instructor asks if you can feel a particular change, you really can. He just really wants to please his rider. He's the perfect gentleman, he never gives you more than he thinks you can safely manage and if you fall out of balance, he slows and waits for you to get back in with him again. Most people call him the great big armchair! Suffolks are easy to take care of. The only drawback is the intelligence problem; Ernie likes to escape from his stable for fun and untie his lead rope while tied up - all for attention! We could leave his stable door wide open and he'd go nowhere because he wouldn't be congratulated on his escape. Ernie's a clean horse so is no more difficult to muck out than the average gelding. Being a native horse, I don't have to worry about rugging or complicated feeds. He manages really well unclipped and unrugged. He's easy to groom - although there's an awful lot of him to brush! I personally recommend enlisting the help of as many children as possible!

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