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Saving equines from slaughter

Katia with her foal Minette born two years ago. Katia was pregnant when rescued from the abattoir

The Sanctuary rehomes equines destined for slaughter but there is, unfortunately, a never-ending supply. Almost all of them have been rescued as they are about to leave for abattoirs in Italy, a 3-4 day grueling journey without food or water, and being packed in too tight means they are immensely stressed and likely to injure themselves and each other. All sorts are sent from young and old to pregnant mares, the Sanctuary appeals for funds and homes for these equines that don’t deserve this fate but unfortunately have to buy them off the abattoir dealer to save them which is anything from €100 to  €1000. We ask for donations and/or homes as the Sanctuary does not have the funds to buy such a large amount of equines each month nor the space on the 10-acre site to hold any more than the 50 residents it has already.  The abattoir dealer who sends the Sanctuary details of equines to rescue may ask a higher price for more valuable horses and this is unfortunately not something we are able to control. Although it is frustrating to have to buy horses to rescue them we still feel that it’s better that the abattoir dealers have the incentive not to send some equines to slaughter and sell to rehome instead as it gives us a chance to give them a second chance at life.

There are a few reasons why equines end up being sold to the abattoir dealer, below is the list of more common scenarios of the equines we get through.  

  • The majority of horses that go for meat are young racers that are just too slow though we aren’t often offered the chance to rehome them much as the raceyard owners have strict policies that they are not rehomed so that the name of the yard that sent them to slaughter be publicized. 20 2-3-year-old Trotters go each week to Italy just from the meatman local to us.

  • The next most common are Trotter broodmares who have foal after foal every year until they are too old to do so or stop producing them reliably, normally around 20. They normally come to us skinny, with rain scald from living with no shelter and headshy from rough handling but they are also often such sweet natured mares. Some of the younger ones have gone on to be ridden again but most need a companion home.  

  • Ex- riding school horse come through semi-regularly as once they reach a certain age they become less mobile and require more feed and care so are no longer as profitable. So after years of service of people banging on their backs and pulling at their mouths, they get a three-day journey in a lorry packed with horses, being trodden on and kicked with no food or water before they die just so the owners get a little more money from them before they go.

  • Others are products of unfortunate situations, such as because their owner has died and their family don’t want to keep them or pay for them to be put down and don’t have time to try and sell them – the meatman offers an attractive deal of cash in hand and picking them up quickly so the problem is dealt with neatly and with some profit. If you compare that with putting a  horse down which can be around 200-600 euros for the vet and bodyman to take away the corpse this is a no-brainer to some. A lot also may not realise that most aren’t taken down the road and killed, perhaps some would change their mind if they followed them to Italy.  It is the same situation with people who need to move and can no longer afford to keep their equines. We are contacted a few times a year by people who have to move back to the UK and can’t take their horses so are desperately trying to rehome them, often these cases can be picked up by dealers promising a good home but you actually don’t know where they will end up though is the case in the UK too.  

  • Some horses we get through are specifically bred for meat like the Cob Normandes or Bretons but just because they were bred for something doesn’t mean that’s all their life should be, we would rescue all farm animals if we could!

  • Donkeys are also a large part of the trade, although they are mostly used as pets here now rather than ridden or driving animals. There was a large surge of popularity for them around 10 years ago to have one as a pet in the garden but this in itself was a problem as Donkeys and all equines are herd animals and should never be kept alone. Quite often they were also left with inadequate care and would suffer greatly. That trend is now fading though you still see a lot of Donkeys here in Normandy, there are many that go for meat once they lose their novelty.

It is a misconception that all equines that go for meat are ‘useless’ we re-home around a hundred horses each year and around 20-30 of them are deemed ‘useful’ i.e ridable but there is more to them than riding, equines are absolutely amazing creatures, they can be so gentle and so funny and form such complex and deep bonds, we should all be able to love them for how amazing they are not just what we can make them do.

The Sanctuary has dealt with the local abattoir dealer for some time now and although we don’t support his job we trust him to send the ‘advertised’ equine although he only has the information the owners give him which can be uncertain but he does not send a different horse than described which some unscrupulous dealers do. The dealer now drops off the equines at the Sanctuary so they can be properly advertised by us and their temperament be described accurately although we don’t have the time or facilities to see if they can be ridden except for a quick sit on for some. The meatman gives us a few weeks now for us to find the funds and/or a home but if he isn’t paid he will take the equine back and he will send to the abattoir instead because that is his business.

Some owners selling to the abattoir specify that they do not want their equine re-sold, these are often people who would not appreciate their details being on the passport that goes with the equine being seen by others in connection with abattoir dealings, these are often racing yards, riding schools or showjumping yards. In these cases we must not put up publicly the pictures of the equines showing their distinguishable features or the abattoir dealer will get in trouble if by some chance they are seen (Which has happened a few times now). We do send them privately to people who ask so we can limit the likelihood of the previous owners seeing but we appreciate people wish to see the equine they would like to save. Anyone is also welcome to visit them at the Sanctuary.

The Procedure for re-homing urgent abattoir cases

Thankyou for considering to rehome an urgent abattoir equine if there weren’t people willing to rehome them they would not get a  second chance at life. 

Firstly you need to have a home suitable for an equine, please read our other page ‘Equines for re-homing’ for more details if you meet these requirements please get in touch with us. We will need to see photographs/ videos of the home you can offer to make sure they have a secure field and shelter and we will need to know about your experience with Equines. If you have never had equines before we can advise as to whether we think that equine is suitable for you.  We can sometimes do a homecheck but it is not possible for the whole of France and England so we have to do what we can. Please do not be offended if we find you unsuitable.

Local homes in Normandy are obviously preferred but this is not always possible. Some equines may not be suitable for long travel due to age or frailty so we may not let them go to England or the South of France. 

Rescues semi-regularly are re-homed in England but please be advised transport is expensive (£500-£700+) and they need to have health certificates issued first.

The Equines can stay at the Sanctuary whilst transport is sorted out but if the new owners could please pay the care costs of their equine so that the Sanctuary can continue to run which is normally about £25 euros a week.

We know very little about the equines that come in, the previous owners may have told the meatman they have been ridden or driven but we cannot test this in most cases so their suitability for being ridden, driven, handled by children or other such uses cannot be guaranteed. If you are near the Sanctuary you are welcome to come and see the Equine and ‘test’ them in any reasonable way though please note the urgency of their need to be saved. Some rescues go on to fulfil these roles but its important that the possibility that they can’t is not a problem for a new owner.  

The Meat Trade

The equine meat trade is to satisfy the demand throughout Europe and other countries. Although its unlikely that horse meat will be taken off the menu totally, having horses slaughtered in local abattoirs with the minimum of waiting and manhandling and better travel conditions would be better, and perhaps, more importantly, the control on the supply through thoughtless breeding and owners who don’t understand a horse is not just something you can ride or breed and make money off, it is an amazing animal in its own right and deserves a home for life and also deserves to die in peace at home when the time comes.

Officially equines that are very young, pregnant, ill,  marked not for consumption or don’t have passports are not allowed to be sent to slaughter but we know that a lot of these animals are not properly checked and passports that are not theirs are acquired to send over with an animal that is superficially similar that meets the requirement for transport and slaughter. The lorries are packed full of many equines who are scared and often un-handlable each one is certainly not thoroughly checked to make sure it matches its passport.

Please sign the World Horse Welfare petition on improving the welfare of equines being transported across Europe for the meat trade. The more difficult and less profitable it is made to transport animals live the less it will be done.



Horses used for Bullfighting

In 2018 we were shocked to discover that a small number of large horses are sent over to Italy from France for use in Bullfighting and we have since saved four horses destined for such fate. They are used as the horses on the outside of the ring (Picador horses) and are all taller/larger horses to withstand the bull trying to attack them better. This is a high risk and jigh stress ordeal for the horse and there is the possibility that they can get gored by the bull.   You can find more information online such as this article here: https://www.horsetalk.co.nz/2013/03/11/horses-forgotten-victims-of-bullfighting/ And please add your name to anti-bullfighting campaigns



The Sanctuary runs almost solely on Felicity’s pension and the very kind people who fundraise and donate to help with the costs of food, care and vet bills for the Sanctuary’s residents and is constantly in debt with the huge expenses. Quite often the Sanctuary has almost had to shut down but we are a small team of volunteers that work to keep it going and through fundraising events it has been able to keep going. If you are able to donate whether it is one off or monthly anything is desperately needed and appreciated. The Sanctuary has no spare money to buy the equines from the meatman and we have to rely on donations to save them.


The Sanctuary has a handful of volunteers, a few help out with the equines,  cleaning up and moving hay but the majority of the day to day work is down to Felicity who works tirelessly despite medical conditions to care for the Sanctuary residents. There are two people who help her run the Facebook page to reply to messages and there are others who a couple of times a year help to organise fundraisers to alleviate some of the cost Any help is so welcome and if you have any time to spare, especially if you are near the Sanctuary please get in touch. From time to time Felicity is helped by the Flicka Sanctuary in Cornwall who rescue Donkeys, sometimes they will pay their meat fee and have them sent over to their Sanctuary and twice some of their volunteers have stayed for a week to help out with the Sanctuary.

Although primarily an equine sanctuary Felicity also has a pack of unwanted dogs and cats.

The Dogs


The Sanctuary has all age ranges, sizes and ailments.  All were unwanted due to their age, illness or because they are just not convenient anymore. France is not as well equipped as England to house unwanted dogs and  the rescues that are in place are overstocked, under funded and over breeding is rife. Often the larger breeds are kept as gun dogs or chained up as guard dogs and when they fail to be useful are let loose to fend for themselves.

The Cats

There are some permanent residents at The Sanctuary but Felicity often gets in half feral or unwanted cats with kittens. The cats are normally farm cats to keep down the large mouse populations in Normandy but neutering them is not commonplace so unwanted kittens are abundant.