Popular Gressenhall horse dies

Emma KnightsWhen young Suffolk Punch Jimbo joined Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse just last month it was wise gentle giant George who was tasked with showing him the ropes.Emma Knights

When young Suffolk Punch Jimbo joined Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse just last month it was wise gentle giant George who was tasked with showing him the ropes.

The handsome 18-year-old stalwart, also one of the rare heavy horse breed, had been a favourite with children and adult visitors alike during his eight years at the museum and seemed the perfect choice to introduce two-year-old Jimbo to life on the farm.

But now Jimbo is mourning the loss of his stable mate, and Gressenhall staff are paying to tribute to an old friend, after George died suddenly last month when he developed a serious case of colic and died within hours of becoming ill.

His death comes just five months after fellow Gressenhall legend Queenie, 17, was also fatally struck by the same condition.

Farm manager Richard Dalton said: 'George was a wonderful horse and gave a lot of people a lot of enjoyment.

'He was just a joy to be with, so gentle and calm and he was just a marvellous horse to work with.

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'George was in such good health, getting regular exercise, pulling cart rides and doing general farm work. He was so loveable: he had befriended Jimbo, the Suffolk Punch foal who recently joined the Gressenhall team and was helping the youngster settle into his new life at the museum.'

Gressenhall's Mike Crisp was working with George the day he became ill.

He said: 'Colic is completely unexpected. One feels helpless watching a healthy animal become ill so rapidly and die for no visibly apparent reason. It's the hardest thing a stockman has to deal with, and for George to follow Queenie so quickly is just heartbreaking.'

Staff at the museum said George's sudden death had no obvious explanation but that horses are by nature subject to colic related illness, a term given to several ailments relating to a horse's intestine, which in severe cases can prove fatal.

Older animals, like George and Queenie, are more prone to colic than younger animals and the loss of both horses is a dreadful blow to the efforts of the museum staff and Friends of Gressenhall in ensuring a future for this endangered breed which is rarer than the giant panda.

With only 100 breeding mares left the Suffolk Punch is high on the critical list and breeders have warned that without ongoing support Suffolks could be extinct within a generation.

Robin Hanley, area museums officer, said: 'George was a much-loved horse who will be greatly missed and his death is a severe setback to us in helping to develop this majestic breed at the museum.

'The Gressenhall Friends and their supporters have done sterling work over the past year to increase the number of horses at Gressenhall and it will be a challenge to maintain everyone's spirits.'

Christine Walters, chairman of Friends of Gressenhall, said: 'George was such a gentle giant. It's been lovely seeing him in the paddock, being a role model to young Jimbo. The youngster will miss him dreadfully.'

Mr Dalton said the museum hoped to get another Suffolk Punch to join Jimbo and the museum's other two Suffolk Punch horses, Trojan, nine, and Bowler, eight.

t Anyone wishing to help the Friends of Gressenhall bring more Suffolk Punches to the museum should contact Christine via the museum or email her at cmjwalters@btinternet.com or call 01362 860967.