Paul Heiney, writer and broadcaster, first became interested in heavy horses whilst working on the BBC series "In At the Deep End". He developed this interest when he met a farming couple who worked their land almost entirely with horses. With a view to writing a book about the farming year, Paul spent one day a week for a year on their Suffolk farm learning traditional farm work, such as ploughing, harrowing, sowing and reaping.
His fascination with the Suffolk horse was such that in 1990 Paul, his wife (the broadcaster Libby Purves), and their 2 young children, moved into a 36-acre farm, where they worked the land in the traditional way. Paul wanted to recreate a bit of Victorian agriculture and preserve the rare breeds. His animals are all rare breeds, and include Suffolk Punch horses, Red Poll cattle, Dorset sheep and a large black pig. Numbers of Suffolk Punch horses have declined as a result of the rise in the use of tractors before and during the 2nd World War. The species almost became extinct in the 1960s. There are fewer than 200 alive in Britain today but numbers are gradually increasing. Encouragingly, there’s much more interest in preserving these rare breeds nowadays.
Pulling Punches: A Traditional Farming Year by Paul Heiney, published by Farming Press Books, Wharfedale Road, Ipswich IP1 4LG, ISBN 0-85236 283 8. The story of Paul Heiney’s year on a farm in Suffolk learning traditional farm work.
Home Farm: A Practical Guide to the Good Life by Paul Heiney, published by Dorling Kindersley, ISBN 07513 0461 1. Paul Heiney shows in this illustrated book how to turn the dream of being a home farmer into a reality.
The Horse in the Furrow: by George Ewart Evans, illustrated by Charles Tunnicliffe. Out of print. This book, which may be obtained from a public library or second-hand bookshop, describes the Suffolk horse and its world.
Find out more about the history of the Suffolk horse with Philip Ryder-Davis, vet & secretary of the Suffolk Horse Society.
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First broadcast: Thursday 8 Oct 1998 on BBC TWO