Help save UK Heavy Horses

  1. Montero

    Montero Senior Member

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    Hi All
    Hope it is OK to post this on SFF Chrons - please delete if not. It occurred to me that I've seen quite a bit of discussion on how to write real horses - as in not ones that can run all day without a pit stop - and there is ongoing discussion of animals on here. So thought some people might be interested.
    The Rare Breed Survival Trust a charity in the UK, is really concerned by the falling numbers of classic heavy horses like the Shire and the Suffolk.
    Home - RBST
    What they want to do is a semen collection now - to try and save the breed genetics and the breed - as if numbers continue to decline, the Suffolk horse could be gone in ten years. So they have started a crowd funder, to try and fund the semen collection.
    Save the UK's Heavy Horses
    I've made a donation (money - before someone says something :) ) and wondered if any horse interested folks on here might do likewise.
    Equally, or as well, if you could spread the word about it - horse websites, Twitter, Facebook etc - that could really help.
    There is only 19 days to go on the fund raiser and they've only raised 3% of the target......
     
    DelActivisto, Abernovo and Jo Zebedee like this.
  2. Abernovo

    Abernovo Well-Known Member

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    All for the RBST. Used to farm Soay and Hebridean sheep, as well Highland cattle, among other breeds, and worked around horses and ponies (including Clydesdales). The RBST does brilliant work, but they're always on a shoestring budget.
     
  3. Overread

    Overread Direwolf of the chrons

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    Some rare breeds are finding use in conservation now as they are more hardy than many more modern breeds. The more native breeds are far more suited to rougher living and less hands-on every-day requirements so they suit conversation sites. That said most do remain rare breeds. It also tends to be more focused on cattle and sheep, whilst the horses of choice for conservation tend to be Koniks (closest to a wild horse we can genetically get) or ponies (dart and ex moors are popular).


    The issue for heavy horses is that basically there's no strong need for them; and in a reduced demand situation you tend to get only a few breeds soaking up that demand. I know that one Suffolk Punch group is aiming to breed them taller and trying to go the same path that the clydesdales have done which is to essentially change it into a heavy riding horse. If it can corner a segment of the riding population its got a chance of surviving, though its genetic "purity" might well be in question given multiple more generations.

    And that to my mind, is one thing to consider when one thinks of rare breeds. The breeds arose because of a need for a specific function and the continued breeding bred an animal that was ever more suited toward that function. If society doesn't restore that function or find a function of similar or near identical requirements then it gets harder and harder to remain true to the breed. You might have a breeding standards book, but unless the work is there you're breeding something to a standard for no function other than to keep the breed alive.

    That can work for a dog or cat or smaller species that can remain true to their standard whilst adapting to a new environment (domestic home life). But for a horse its harder because the market is a lot smaller and keeping the animal in good healthy condition requires a lot more time. A financial and time investment most people would want something out of for themselves not just to preserve a breed - ergo the desire to try and break into the riding market.






    So to my mind that does beg the question of a semen bank and what it will achieve. There's a kind of fancy that these banks will preserve species for restoration later; with wild species I can "sort" of see an end goal since habitat restoration at a latter date could potentially benefit from reintroduction of restored species. However for a breed which is tied to human use as its "environment" I can't see the "habitat restoration" of that work returning to spark demand for the breed to be restored from its semen bank.

    I think the only chance for such breeds is groups like the Amish which have the working environment and have a social structure large enough to support a healthy breeding population. Indeed I believe that there are suffolk bloodlines in the USA - though I think there's some question as to their purity and also some snobbery going on between rare breed bloodline groups. That said I'm no way near involved enough to have more than guesswork at what's going on based on limited information.
     
  4. DelActivisto

    DelActivisto WARG!

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    Would these be the guys that used to be used for warhorses in medieval times, or are those guys already gone?
     
  5. Montero

    Montero Senior Member

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    Well, I got curious about the questions and went off to look up the answer. Regarding war horses - very interesting articles in Wikipedia, making the point that in the Medieval period horses were characterised by type/use not breed.

    Horses in the Middle Ages - Wikipedia

    The battle horse, the destrier
    Destrier - Wikipedia
    looks to be an ancestor of the modern Percheron draft horse, and possibly the Shire horse.

    I also looked up the Suffolk Punch - and interesting stuff in there about breeding for a particular purpose - that with the Shire they were bred for longer legs because they were a road horse, but the Suffolk Punch was bred for farm work so was shorter and built like a tank (to paraphrase).

    Suffolk Punch - Wikipedia

    The article also shows modern uses of the Suffolk Punch or breeds which are part Suffolk Punch. Now, Wikipedia isn't guaranteed to be accurate - but the articles do have quite a few references. So there are variations of the Suffolk Punch around the world. It is the registered stockbook Suffolk Punch that is at risk, that the RBST is trying to save - I hadn't quite appreciated that until doing the research this morning. I think that is still worth doing, but I do see the arguments that it is a bit niche.

    Now, regarding semen banks - I think they are a good idea in general - as you can keep variations of male bloodlines going and keep the genetic diversity in a small population. Also, in general, keeping genetic diversity going is a precaution for the future - so if we went to just a few modern breeds there would be a genetic narrowing, and having access to a wider variety of genetic material allows humans to create faster adaptations of breeds - faster than would happen by evolution. So I am broadly a fan.
    The RBST has also done major collections for a lot of sheep and cattle breeds - as a genetic back-up. The UK has long had a policy of culling during a foot and mouth outbreak - so in a given area, all cloven hoofed animals are killed (sheep, goats, cattle - not horses). In the last major outbreak, some of the regional breeds were decimated, so after that there was a big effort on semen collection. A lot of the cattle and sheep rare breeds tend to be very hardy, also some are used for conservation grazing. They are also growing in popularity in the gourmet meat market as having a better flavour. Some of the naturally coloured or otherwise unusual wools are also popular in hand crafts.
     
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