A radical new breeding project that is able to determine the gender of live semen could save the Suffolk Punch from extinction.

Critical list

Suffolks are Britain’s oldest heavyweight horse breed, but they are on the critical list of endangered breeds and could become extinct within the next 10 years.

There are now fewer than 300 Suffolk horses left, and the number of breeding females has dwindled from 1,334 in 1947 to just 73 in 2017.

To address this imbalance the Rare Breed Survival Trust (RBST) is working with Stallion AI Services, who use the latest technology in their breeding programmes.

Making history

“Thanks to advances in science and technology, developed in collaboration between us and some of the world’s most renowned experts, we are developing processes that will ­– for the first time in the history of equine reproduction – allow us to sex live semen.”

Sexed semen is used on a daily basis in cattle, but in horse breeding there are still some difficulties in the process.

“We are now able to do much more and offer solutions to the very real problems faced by conventional AI technologies in addressing issues such as dwindling numbers of breeding females,” said Stallion AI Services’ founder Tullis Matson. “In recent years, this is a challenge that has particularly affected those working to save the Suffolk horse.

Preserve animals

Stallion AI Services started working with RBST in 2002, when the charity began a project to collect semen from stallions of endangered breeds. Since then they have collected or been gifted over 4,000 doses of semen from 72 stallions of 14 breeds.

The Suffolk Horse Society now has 20 licensed stallions on its register and in 2017 a total of 47 mares were covered with 16 stallions. By the end of the season at least 27 had been scanned and confirmed in foal.

Just recently three stunning stallions arrived at Stallion AI Services (pictured above) – one of which goes out hunting with his owner Bruce Langley McKim from Thorpeley Stud.

“This is not a time for complacency, but certainly for optimism, as modern technology and heritage work hand in hand to preserve the animals that form such a central part of our national history,” said Gail Sprake, chairman of the RBST Trustees.

If you’re interested in breeding, don’t miss our fascinating documentary The Hanoverian Stallion Show 2017, which showcases the world’s most promising stallions at the Hanoverian headquarters in Germany. You can watch it now on Horse & Country.