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A Well Mannered Elephant

Posted by admin on May 14, 2018

Have you ever seen a horse so big that the idea of a step ladder becomes realistic? Well meet Tess! Tess came into my yard a couple of weeks ago and she’s the real deal, standing at 17hh and is quite literally as wide as she is tall. With a neck that could pull the laziest person out of bed and feet the size of dinner plates, you know she’s packing some power but this gentle giant is the type of girl most of my other clients want to put in their pockets and take home.

When I was contacted by Tess’s owners, I decided that I wanted to research her breed, Tess’s owners explained that she’d actually come from a ‘petting’ farm (where children go to visit and be around farm animals) and although this breed is normally broken much earlier than your everyday ride.

Tess found herself lounging around farm life so, unlike her stable mates (yes her owner has 3 more) she is slightly more bolshy than others her age and that’s where I come in.

Tess and I have been getting on just fine; at first we had a few discussions about the idea of leaving the yard – she thought that perhaps a warm stable was preferable to the pouring rain…but we are getting there! She is enjoying cruising round the farm now, past tractors (which to be honest look the same size as her), past the geese – who think they are guard dogs and, in my partner’s opinion, are equally as effective, also up into the woods where I feel like I’m riding a baby elephant in the rainforest, then back home.

Trying to understand what motivates Tess, not only from a riding point of view, but from a breed perspective took me on a visit to my grandfather, who when he was a young boy saw these horses working the land. One of the stories that stood out was ‘yep, got kicked by one, lost all my teeth and broke my jaw too’. Time has changed so much that these lovely beasts are no longer used to work the land; they were once accustomed to ploughing fields for hours on end but live a quieter life now, and it’s thanks to people like Tess’s owner who are promoting the value of the breed, that they continue to rise in popularity.

So what should we expect the Suffolk Punch to be doing these days? If Tess was asked, she’d probably encourage me to write ‘sipping pinocoldarda’s lying on a beach’ but actually you can find the Suffolk punch in harness, competing at shows or taking lead in country events. They are also used for forestry and, something I recently learned, is that they have been introduced into a cross breeding programme to produce sport horses. The cross breeding programme is a really positive step for the Suffolk Punch as the Rare Breeds Survival Trust has listed them as ‘critical’ due to their falling numbers.

Due to the dwindling numbers of this breed, there are a few things you need to remember before investing in one! The first is that Tess needs a marquee to cover her, not your everyday Mark Todd rug. She also has custom made shoes that are ordered in advance and cost more than your average food shopping bill! I thought my farrier was joking when he asked me to go and measure her hoof from different angles before he got to the yard, it really was a first! Tess’s shoes are made and then fabricated on site rather than mass produced like your regular horse.

I am really enjoying having Tess on the yard, it has given me the opportunity to learn about the breed, which is something I might not have done before. I really like being able to work with a gentle giant who is also a big baby. A horse like this could really use her weight and strength against you and although she still sometimes wants to have those discussions, she also knows when work is non-negotiable and when downtime is allowed. We are seeing more and more, the well-mannered elephant standing in the top stable ready for a belly scratch and it’s a pleasure to watch her development.

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