Tuesday 21st of March 2023

New campaign launched to help save our heavy horses

The facts make for terrifying reading but the numbers of 12 horse breeds are decreasing at a worrying level. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST), whose aim is to secure the future of our rare and native breeds of farm livestock, is very concerned about the plight of the heavy horses and has launched a campaign to save our heavy horses, at their National Livestock Gene Bank conference.

Credit: Bruce Dean

It is hoped the campaign will help raise awareness of the plight of the UK’s heavy horses and also increase donations, which will help to fund the collection of much-needed genetic material for the Gene Bank.

These gentle giants were once a familiar sight in every town and village in the country, as they managed the land by pulling drays and ploughing the fields.

The decline began during World War One, when thousands of heavy horses died whilst hauling heavy artillery into the trenches. Numbers steadily increased during the period in-between the World Wars, only to steeply drop after the introduction of tractors. As the UK embraced industrialisation with the mechanisation of transport, agriculture and industry, there was consequently no need to keep them.

Credit: The Andrew Atterwill, Earsham Wetland Centre

Numbers are falling at an alarming rate, registered breeding Suffolk mares have fallen from 1,334 in 1947 to just 73 in 2017.

RBST are raising awareness that if we wish to keep our heritage alive, we need to support the National Livestock Gene Bank. Without collecting genetic material from these unique breeds now, in a decade we could lose a breed forever.

Tom Beeston, RBST CEO said,

‘These heavy horses were here for us when we needed them, now it’s our turn to act to save these iconic breeds’.

The numbers

To save 1 horse: £68

Field Officer support for 1 day: £250

Save a full horse collection: £5000

Save a breed: £125,000

Save heavy horses: £375,000

To put it into context, here are equine breeds on the Watchlist (this list is based on numbers of registered breeding females in the United Kingdom):


Cleveland Bay Horse

Dales Pony


Hackney Horse and Pony

Suffolk Horse


Dartmoor Pony

Exmoor Pony

Fell Pony
Highland Pony

AT RISK (900 TO 1500)
New Forest Pony
Shire Horse

To make a donation to the campaign to save the UK’s heavy horses click here and to find out more about the work of the Rare Breed Survival Trust, visit their website here



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