Your breed needs you: push to save our rare horses *H&H Plus*

  • Societies and enthusiasts are asking “what’s in your paddock” in the hope of finding more breeding-age members of our rarest equine species. H&H finds out more

    OWNERS of pure-bred rare-breed horses are urged to consider breeding from them this year as the fight to save our equine heritage goes on.

    Five British horse breeds are listed as critical by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, which means there are fewer than 300 registered breeding females: Cleveland Bays, Suffolks, Hackneys, Eriskays and Dales.

    Bruce Langley-McKim of Thorpeley Stud, which stands rare-breed stallions, is pushing the catchphrase “Your breed needs you”.

    “I’m asking, ‘What’s in your paddock?’” he told H&H. “These breeds are getting rarer and they’re part of our heritage; it’s not right they should die off because we’ve made them redundant and then don’t act to save them.”

    Mr Langley-McKim added that if horses change hands, or die, and passports are not updated, they can drop out of the system, so breed societies do not know the full picture.

    He also wants to promote the range of jobs the rare-breed horses can excel in. He hunts and has evented his Suffolk stallion Craikhow Hall Jensen to show he can do it, which he thinks is crucial as without a market, especially for the heavier horses, there may be less reason to breed them.

    “Otherwise, in 20 years, they’ll be gone,” he said. “We’ve got the tech and the science to keep these breeds going; it can be done, we’ve just got to have people coming forward with horses.”

    Cleveland Bay Horse Society council deputy chair Jackie Sparrow told H&H she agrees with the push to breed.

    “We’re struggling a bit because people have mares but aren’t breeding them,” she said. “Because they’re critically endangered, we need pure-bred mares to go to pure-bred stallions, and a lot of people may not realise the genetic value of their horses.”

    Ms Sparrow said the society found in a survey that there are only 84 mares in the breeding programme in this country, and a total of about 300 worldwide.

    “It’s that bad,” she said. “We really need people who have pure-bred mares to think about letting them have a pure-bred foal, naturally or by freezing of embryos or embryo transfer.. The breed is so versatile; they jump, event, do really good dressage and do a lot of endurance in the US.

    “We need to know where the mares are. Anyone with one, please contact the society so we can make sure they’re at least in the genetic database.”

    Ms Sparrow also urged owners of colts to get in touch, as semen can be preserved from testes after gelding. Tissue banking to harvest DNA from deceased horses for possible future cloning has also recently started.

    Suffolk Horse Society chairman Mark Donsworth said the society has just completed a census, in a drive to find out exact numbers, and there are fewer than 70 breeding-age mares left.

    “Last year, we bred 32 foals; that’s how critical things are,” he told H&H.

    He added that for anyone wary or nervous of breeding, the society has advisers and experts to help at every stage of the process, as well as grants towards breeding, and webinars that will be uploaded to the society’s website early next year.

    “We spent £30,000 helping breeders this year; and for anyone with doubts, we’ve got people delighted to help,” he said.

    “I can’t tell you how important this is. Suffolks are rarer than giant pandas; there was a suggestion the breed might die out in 10 years if something wasn’t done.

    “We’re doing our best and are looking at opportunities like sexed semen to breed fillies, and all sorts of scientific advances, but fundamentally, we need owners and breeders to help us.

    “If there’s a mare out there and we can help, it’s crucial.”

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