Perhaps in the eyes of the ordinary visitor to an agricultural show there is no variety of the so-called Heavy Horse more attractive than the Suffolk. The breed, moreover, comes as somewhat of a novelty to many persons, for, in spite of the great claims possessed by the Suffolk upon the suffrages of the agriculturist and the townsman, it is still in East Anglia that his merits are most keenly appreciated, and, in fact, the farmers in that part of the country prefer the Suffolk to any other breed of heavy horse. It is, however, against the breed that the proportions of a Suffolk do not equal those of a Clydesdale or a Shire horse, many persons being thereby led away into a belief that the east country animals are proportionately weaker than the others; whereas those who are best acquainted with their merits entertain the opinion that, considering his height - 16 hands 1 inch is the recognized limit of stature in connection with this variety - the Suffolk is quite as powerful an animal as any other breed of horse in existence.
Probably, therefore, if he were better known, the Suffolk would considerably increase the circle of his supporters; but, in the face of the patronage that is now being extended to both Clydesdales and Shires, the development of the east country horse will be for a time retarded. Nevertheless, he is holding his ground well abroad, and orders keep coming in from various foreign countries, whilst good prices continue to be realized by fair-class animals from buyers who possess practical experience of their merits. No doubt this horse has not the weight or power to draw, through crowded streets, heavy lorries and other such cumbersome vehicles when loaded to their utmost - such duties lie far more within the province of the Clydesdale and the Shire; but in front of a plough, with a good man behind it, a pair of Suffolks can get through a day's work that should amply satisfy the requirements of any reasonably-minded agriculturist. Then, too, for the lighter class of goods traffic in towns the Suffolk is a very suitable horse, for he is so much more active than the Shire or Clydesdale, in addition to being faster than either, that he can get through a day's work in a comparatively light wagon far better than they. Consequently he possesses many friends amongst the managers of railway and other parcel delivery companies, who include amongst the goods they have to handle large quantities of articles, which though not weighty enough to load in their heaviest vans, are still too bulky and cumbersome for express deliveries.
The precise origin of the Suffolk is, like that of most ancient breeds, enshrouded in obscurity, but, at the same time, the antiquity of this horse is absolutely beyond all question. So far back as the year 1720, allusions to the breed in the Ipswich Journal are so frequent as to render it certain that it was firmly established at that remote period. Indeed it is asserted by some that the Suffolks were cultivated as a distinct breed five hundred years ago by crossing the old Norman horse with East of England mares; though it must be observed, in justice to other breeds of less remote antiquity, that the proofs of such assertions are insufficient. Be this as it may, the fact remains that the Suffolks of the present day can boast of pedigrees that extend back as far as 1768, at which period there existed a notable but nameless stallion belonging to one Crisp, a resident at Ufford, near Woodbridge. From this animal every prominent winner at our horse shows to-day, if not every pure-bred Suffolk, is in some way or other descended. It is noticeable, too, that the allusions made to this horse in the Suffolk Chronicle and Ipswich Journal are substantiated by the writings of persons living about the middle of the eighteenth century, who, according to a writer in Heavy Horses, were accustomed to advertise the pedigrees of animals which went back for two or three generations at the very least. In stating that every Suffolk of to-day can take his pedigree back to the nameless horse of Mr. Crisp, it must not be understood that no attempts have been made to effect improvements in the variety by the introduction of outside crosses; but, at the same time, these have all been made in connection with the descendants of the old horse, and, so far as can he gathered by persons who have interested themselves in following these crosses out, they have not been attended with success, as all trace of them has been lost in the course of a few generations. It is known that certain crosses of the old Lincolnshire blood have been attempted, and the experiment of crossing with a trotting horse has also been made - the latter being possibly introduced with an idea of rendering the Suffolk more valuable as a coacher, as it is stated that the breed was cultivated by the owners of stage-coaches in the early days of the eighteenth century, when the rate of progression was slower than it became later on.
It would appear probable that these crosses with alien blood were responsible for the bay animals which formerly appeared in the breed, but for the past half-century the Suffolk Punches have returned to the ancient colour of their race, chestnut, and even the darker shade of this colour has practically ceased to be seen. No doubt many persons more or less strongly object to chestnuts, which are by some considered to be weakly in constitution, and by others to be fretful and irritable in their dispositions; and perhaps the Suffolks may owe to the colour of their coats a little of their failure to gain new admirers as quickly as have some other breeds; but the fact remains that all the original horses of the breed concerning which descriptions are forthcoming were chestnuts, and that the old colour came out again as strongly and as unvaryingly as ever even in the descendants of some of the crosses which were attempted years ago, as stated above. At the same time, it may be added, in confirmation of the suggestion that his colour has been in some measure responsible for the comparative failure of the Suffolk, that American writers have proposed that an organized attempt should be made to introduce bay Suffolks; but, needless to say, the good sense of English breeders has stepped in and prevented any tampering with the purity of an old-established race, that has already proved its unsuitability for being improved by crossing with other varieties.