White Rose Phoenix helped boost the numbers of the Suffolk Punch, the oldest English breed of working horse, when he was born last month. He is the first Suffolk foal to be born in Yorkshire for 40 years.

The breed is in the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s ‘priority one’ category, which is classed as being of most concern due to being rare and having increased inbreeding.

The foal’s owners, Sally and Toby Bates from Driffield, hope the colt 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 (‘Pheo’) was conceived using artificial insemination (AI) at Rainbow Equine Hospital, part of VetPartners.

The foal has been named after vet Phoebe O’Sullivan, who performed the AI procedure at the hospital last spring and cared for his dam, Holbeache Mirabelle (Miri), throughout her pregnancy. This involved Miri following a tailored exercise programme and taking medication to create the perfect conditions in her uterus for an embryo to grow.

‘I could tell the foal was large’

Miri started showing signs of going into labour at 5.30pm on Tuesday, 9 March, and Sally stepped into the role of midwife with Phoebe talking 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, 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 visited Phoenix 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.”

Pheo is by the Suffolk Punch stallion Colony Cuthbert.

Sally said: “Pheo is just perfect. He’s strong, healthy and very friendly, just like Miri.”

All-round riding horses

Suffolk Punch horses were once popular for working the land, but when tractors took over farm work 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 affiliated 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.

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.”

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