A BREED of horse that is said to be rarer than the Giant Panda has welcomed its first Yorkshire-born foal for 40 years.
White Rose Phoenix helped boost the numbers of the Suffolk Punch, the oldest English breed of working horse, when he was born last month. There are less than 500 purebred Suffolk horses in the UK, and only around 70 breeding mares, and the breed is classed as critically endangered by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.
The colt foal’s proud owners, Sally and Toby Bates from Driffield, hope the youngster will grow up to showcase how versatile the Suffolk Punch is as an all-round riding and driving horse, and one day may be used to breed his own foals.
Phoenix, or Pheo for short, was conceived using artificial insemination (AI), and Sally and Toby called on the expertise of the veterinary team at Rainbow Equine Hospital in Malton to help his mum, Holbeache Mirabelle, known as Miri, fall pregnant.
The foal has been named after Rainbow Equine vet Phoebe O’Sullivan who performed the AI procedure at the hospital last spring, then cared for Miri to give her the best chance of having a foal. This involved Miri following a tailored exercise programme and taking medication to create the perfect conditions in her uterus for an embryo to grow.
Two weeks later, the Rainbow team performed an ultrasound scan that showed seven-year-old Miri was successfully in foal. As horses have an 11-month gestation period, there was then a 335-day wait for the foal to put in an appearance.
Miri started showing signs of going into labour at 5.30pm on March 9th, and Sally stepped into the role of midwife. Phoebe, however, was with Sally every step of the way as she coached her through the birth over the phone.
Phoebe said: “Sally put her phone on speaker and laid it in the straw, then described everything she could see. I was also listening out for Miri’s breathing, too, and after 20 minutes I could tell the foal was fairly large, so I asked Sally to give Miri a hand.
“The birth went pretty smoothly but Sally just needed to apply a little bit of pressure to help him out. She did a great job, although I found it harder to talk someone through a foaling than actually being there and doing it myself!”
Phoebe didn’t have to wait long to meet Phoenix because she went to help the newborn when Sally reported that he was struggling to nurse. Phoebe soon had him on his feet and ensured he had a drink of the vital first milk called colostrum, which contains antibodies to protect him from illness.
Phoebe added: “It was very exciting to have been involved in this journey, from helping Miri get in foal to being there just after Phoenix was born. Everyone at Rainbow is thrilled to have played a part in the preservation of this rare breed and we are excited to follow Miri and Phoenix’s progress in the future.”
Sally and Toby are extremely proud of their new arrival, whose dad is Suffolk Punch stallion Colony Cuthbert, and report that Miri is proving to be a brilliant first-time mum.
Sally said: “Pheo is just perfect. He’s strong, healthy and very friendly, just like Miri.”
Suffolk Punch horses were once popular for working the land, but fell out of favour when tractors took over farm work and their numbers went into decline. However, Sally and Toby and other fans of the breed are keen to preserve its future and spread the news that they can make a brilliant, all-round riding horse.
Miri, who they have owned for five years, loves going hacking and competes successfully in ridden showing and dressage competitions.
The Bates also have another Suffolk Punch, Dunkirk Gold Dust (Dusty) and they hope to put both mares in foal next year, again with the help of Rainbow Equine Hospital.
Sally said: “We are so grateful to Phoebe and the team at Rainbow for all the help and advice they gave us, and it was due to their knowledge and hard work that Miri was in foal after just one cycle of AI. They have a lot of expertise about breeding and a good understanding of the Suffolk Punch, and this improved Miri’s chances of having a foal.”
As a thank you to their vet for all her hard work, the Bates took the first four letters of Phoebe’s name to christen the foal Phoenix.
Sally added: “Phoebe was amazing and always on the end of the phone if we needed any help or advice and it made such a difference to us as first-time breeders.”