Wave of Mutilations

Last weekend two British horses were found dead and mutilated in their fields. The first, a seven-year-old rescued pony called Barney from Carmarthenshire was found with his eyes gashed and a long slash in his side. The second, a two-year-old Friesian called Erik from Cornwall had been castrated, blinded, gutted and had its teeth pulled out. One local horse owner believes that the same attackers may have been responsible for the death of her Shetland near Bodmin in 2006 (news item from the BBC):

Mrs Penn said: “I was led to believe there are cults and they made sacrifices on specific days.” Some internet forums have contained speculation that the most recent killing coincided with St Winebald Day on 7 January, which is said to have been included on Satanic calendars as a date for blood rituals.

A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall police said: “We’re keeping an open mind with many lines of inquiry as to what happened. There is nothing specific to suggest that this is the case, there are no facts, it’s speculation. “It was a savage attack on or near a date, but there is nothing to suggest that it is things like a Satanic worship attack.”

The RSPCA’s spokesperson for the region, Jo Barr, said: “It’s impossible to know at the moment what the motivation was behind the attack. “I have been with the RSPCA for eight years. In my time I am only aware of one incident which was potentially linked. There were a couple of attacks on Dartmoor on sheep. There were suggestions that the bodies were left in a formation, I believe it was a pentangle, it was suggested it was linked to Satanic practices or witchcraft.”

Today it emerged that Barney died of natural causes and the police have closed the case: I’m assuming that this means that the “mutilations” he suffered were committed by wild animals, post mortem.

Whenever a horse is found with injuries that seem out of the ordinary people begin to talk about “horse rippers” and Satanists. In fact, most equine injuries are caused by… other horses, as this 2004 Guardian piece points out:

Ted Barnes, a field officer with the International League for the Protection of Horses, and a former member of the Met unit, calculates that 80 per cent of suspected horse attacks are not committed by humans. “In by far the largest percentage of cases where the animal has been harmed, it is either self-inflicted or inflicted by another horse. A lot of people find this hard to believe, but it does happen,” Barnes said.

The article does, however, also point out strings of attacks that clearly had human involvement, in particular one run in South Yorkshire in 2003:

In the run-up to the summer solstice, there were at least 12 attacks on horses in fields along the Derbyshire/Yorkshire border. One horse had eight litres of blood drained from its stomach, while stones depicting five-pointed stars were found in the surrounding fields. Some of the animals had their tails removed, and others had their manes plaited in intricate patterns – signs of black magic practices. Despite 24-hour surveillance, police caught no one. There had been similar attacks in Nottinghamshire at Hallowe’en the previous year, but no one was arrested.

Most Satanists and most Pagans would happily point out that their religion has nothing to do with these kinds of practices. The links to various significant dates seem rather arbitrary to me (there’s always a new one) but it also seems extraordinary that in these days of exposés, anonymous blogs and Deepnet there could be practices so arcane that they could baffle the mainstream for decades. Are there really no clues out there?

UPDATE: Ministry of Truth has a good breakdown on the “Satanic horse mutilation” hysteria, although they do ruin it all by proposing that Eric was in fact stolen and replaced with a, er, dead ringer. Obviously not paying attention to horse prices lately… Even if someone found a pedigree Friesian who looked exactly like Eric, it would be a pretty expensive swap, or else one that’s so economically pointless that it wouldn’t be worth the hassle.

UPDATE 2, 16th January 2012: Another young stallion has been found dead in Devon with wounds to his eyes and genitals. Although the police are sure that he died of natural causes, his owners believe that at least one of the injuries is too clean to have been made by an animal.

The Price of Cuteness

I’d like to say straight off that I’m not a vet, also that to read this post properly you will have to click on a lot of links and read the material sourced at other sites in order to make up your own mind about this story. Anyone who is a vet is welcome to chime in and tell me if I’ve gotten something wrong, or been unintentionally misleading.

Several newspapers and media outlets are currently featuring the story of Minxy, a miniature horse recently born in Cornwall, whose owners are appealing for donations to raise £6,000 for operations on Minxy’s legs.

Here is a high-quality miniature horse foal for sale for £2,000 on the British Miniature Horse Society’s website. Notice that it “does exactly what it says on the tin” – i.e. it looks like a horse shrunk with a ray gun. Its legs are relatively long for its body, straight and well-conformed.

Now look at Minxy. And Minxy without his splints.

The owner talked to This is Cornwall:

“He needed feeding every half-hour and couldn’t stand to suckle from his mother,” said Ms Morris, who moved the pint-sized pony to her home to continue caring for him. “He was around six weeks premature and not fully formed. His legs were severely twisted.”

About £1,600 has already been spent on vets’ bills splinting Minxy’s legs to help straighten them and wrapping them in bandages each day.

“His front legs have become a lot stronger but his back legs will need pinning. He needs a scan which costs £800 per leg plus around £4,000 to operate.”

As others have pointed out, Minxy’s legs are not twisted because Minxy was premature. Minxy’s legs are probably twisted because Minxy suffers from dwarfism, and he was probably born early because Nature tries to press “eject” on pregnancies that are going awry. If you’re in the UK you can watch footage of him trying to walk here.


“Minxy also has problems with his throat. His teeth are growing to the back of his mouth and could block his airway, so he will need an operation to fix that,” she said.

This is a complication of brachiocephalism, the feature of dwarfism that gives Minxy that bulge-y “My Little Pony” head and curves his muzzles down like a beak or a claw. He’s reportedly already had pneumonia twice in ten weeks of life.

This site claims that the mortality rate for miniature horse foals in the USA is one in three; with due care and attention this can be reduced to one in ten. Needless to say, this is still ridiculously high. Here’s a memorial site for dwarf horses produced by US breeders. Notice that most of them live a few months at most.

So, what does the future hold for Minxy if he doesn’t succumb to another bout of pneumonia and end up like the poor wee things in Horsie Heaven?

Here’s a pony like Minxy being kept in an equine “wheelchair”.

Here’s another dwarf mini called Koda between his leg and skull operations, doing well, it seems, although whether his deformities were as severe as Minxy’s is unclear. He appears to be leading a relatively normal life. Once again, however, this is a numbers game, because horses have a poor survival rate with general anaesthesia.

Koda was lucky. There’s a good Horse and Hound summary of the risks here. The risks of fatality stand as follows:

  • 1 in 110 for healthy horses
  • 1 in 8 for horses undergoing colic surgery
  • 1 in 20 for horses having fracture repair surgery
  • 1 in 900 for cats
  • 1 in 1,800 for dogs
  • 1 in 10,000 for humans

For a pony like Minxy who is already very sick, the odds of surviving repeated operations are pretty poor. Furthermore, the recovery period is crucial. Horses’ digestive and respiratory systems have evolved to function best when the horse is moving more or less constantly. In the wild, horses spend very little time either on their sides or immobile (they sleep for only 3 hours out of 24, and usually stand to do it as the weight of their internal organs is not well supported when they are prone), and horses recuperating from leg operations usually spend time in cross ties or even slings to immobilise them.

The most famous recent example is the American racehorse Barbaro who broke down catastrophically and publicly in the 2006 Preakness Stakes. Wikipedia has a blow-by-blow breakdown of his subsequent operations and the eight months he spent being treated for the complications resulting from that initial treatment. One operation turned into many, and the horse finally had to be euthanized when three his legs became laminitic as a result of taking the weight for his injured right hind leg.

So, what do you think Minxy’s future holds?

Incidentally, the UK currently has a surplus of native ponies, which I’ve written about here, here and, in most detail, here. In February the Mail reported that dead ponies were found on Bodmin Moor, not far from Minxy’s home. It would cost a lot less than £6,000 to snap up some ponies at UK markets, worm them, feed them and train them up till they had some value and were less likely to be sold for zoo meat. Dartmoors, New Forests, Welshies and Exmoors may not be the smallest ponies in the world, but I think they’re pretty damn cute.


UPDATE: Minxy was put down in early August, on vets’ advice.

Poor Beasts on Bodmin

Very upsetting images in this BBC report from Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, where the corpses of emaciated ponies have been found. It’s unclear if they were killed by disease or were victims of  neglect by a non-commoner owner who then dumped them.