Rare-breed horses and donkeys find sanctuary at Redwings

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A family affair: A Pitou donkey family is settling in at Redwings. Photo: Redwings
A family affair: A Poitou donkey family is settling in at Redwings. © Redwings

British sanctuary Redwings is now home to six animals with bloodlines representing the rarest of equine breeds.

The charity is coming to terms with what it is calling a rare-breed bonanza.

In two days last week it welcomed two sets of very rare-breed equines, including two foals.

It is now home to two endangered Suffolk Punch horses, which are now settling into one of its centres in Norfolk, while Redwings Oxhill in Warwickshire has just greeted four French Poitou donkeys, including two foals.

Wilf and Stanley, a pair of Suffolk Punch geldings, were rescued by field officer Julie Harding and World Horse Welfare’s Jacko Jackson from a site in Norfolk after they had been found being kept in a tiny barn.

Wilf was suffering from severe sweet itch that had caused most of his mane to fall out, while both had poor feet that had not been trimmed for some time.

The seven-year-old pair, both standing at 16 hands, have been together since birth and are firm friends. Their owner agreed to sign them over to the charity so they could receive the treatment they needed.

“We are just so glad these horses will be able to get all the proper care they need and that they are able to move about freely at last,” Harding said.

“We feel so privileged to have two such stunning chaps in our care and we hope they will soon be able to go to one of our visitor centres so our supporters can see these magnificent and historic creatures close up.”

The Suffolk Punch, sometimes called the Suffolk Horse, is the oldest breed of heavy horse in Britain. Its lineage can be traced back to the 16th century. They were used across East Anglia for hundreds of years for farming but the industrial revolution caused a devastating decline in their numbers. In 1966, there were just nine foals born in the whole of Britain.

Stanley, left, and Wilf now have a new home with Redwings. Photo: Redwings
Stanley, left, and Wilf have a new home with Redwings. © Redwings

Thankfully, action was taken before it was too late and, although still included on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust watchlist as critical, with fewer than 300 registered breeding females in 2014, numbers are now on the increase thanks to the efforts of charities and the breed societies.

They are always chestnut, known as “chesnut” for this breed only.

Last Friday, Redwings’ Oxhill visitor centre in Warwickshire welcomed the family of Poitou donkeys – Millie and Adel and their babies, Arya and Merlin.

The have come to Redwings from a long-standing welfare volunteer who is sadly no longer able to care for them.

Arya, born in July, and Merlin, born in May, are both part-bred Poitous, as is Adel, but Millie is a full registered Poitou donkey standing at 14.2 hands. She has the traditional shaggy coat, known as a cadanette.

Arya is said to be a real headturner.

Adel was originally rescued from the meat trade in Italy and she gave birth to little Merlin in May. She may be a part-bred Poitou, but traces of her traditional coat can still be seen in winter.

Poitous, also known as the Baudet, originate from France, with only about 400 left globally.

They faced extinction in the 1970s when a count revealed only 77 in the world, but a programme to save the breed was launched and the population is now on the increase, albeit slowly.

They are renowned for their wonderful hairy coats, and they are also one of the largest donkey breeds in the world, with adults growing to between 14 and 15 hands. Donkeys usually grow to 10 or 11 hands.

Redwings Oxhill farm manager Helen Glen described the family as an absolute delight.

“They arrived late on Friday but we all stayed to welcome them and it’s safe to say we haven’t done any work since! They are very friendly, very sweet donkeys and we know our visitors are going to absolutely love them.”

People can visit these donkeys at Redwings’ visitor centre daily from 10am to 4pm. Entry is free. People who want to help with their care can text code HORS30 followed by how much that they would give (eg ‘HORS30 £5’) to 70070; or click here to donate online.

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