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Ten years on ... Norfolk-based horse sanctuary Redwings remembers ‘momentous’ rescue




Rescued Esther was so weak when she was rescued she needed to be carried from the lorry. Submitted picture.
Rescued Esther was so weak when she was rescued she needed to be carried from the lorry. Submitted picture.

A Norfolk-based horse sanctuary is looking ahead to a special year commemorating 10 years since one of the most notorious rescues in the charity’s history.

Redwings Horse Sanctuary is a charity with headquarters in Hapton.

More than 100 horses and donkeys were living in horrific conditions at Spindle Farm, Amersham. Submitted picture.
More than 100 horses and donkeys were living in horrific conditions at Spindle Farm, Amersham. Submitted picture.

On January 9, 2008, a team of 32 staff responded to an urgent call for help from the RSPCA to assist with the rescue of more than 100 horses and donkeys found living in horrific conditions at Spindle Farm, in Amersham, Buckinghamshire.

The animals were discovered in varying states of emaciation, covered in lice and suffering from overgrown feet. The carcasses of more than 30 horses and donkeys, who had succumbed to illness or injury before their plight was uncovered, laid around them.

The charity said it was the worst case of neglect its rescue teams had ever seen.

The case also saw the first effective use of new powers under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which ensured every single horse and donkey was transported to places of safety as quickly as possible.

I remember seeing the horses and donkeys as they arrived at Redwings and it wasn’t just their appalling physical state that shocked me, but their eerie quietness and sheer sadness
Lynn Cutress

Lynn Cutress, chief executive at Redwings, said: “Amersham was a momentous rescue that not only left a mark on Redwings, but the wider public, too.

“Never before had people’s eyes been so opened to the suffering of equines in this country, while the use of the new powers under the Animal Welfare Act was a real ground-breaking moment for the animal welfare community and has gone on to revolutionise how we save horses in need ever since.”

Redwings initially took 21 of the most ill and vulnerable animals back to its horse hospital at its Norfolk headquarters for immediate treatment.

Over the next few years, the charity would offer a safe forever home to 60 horses and donkeys from Spindle Farm, as well as six foals born to rescued mares.

The animals were discovered in varying states of emaciation, covered in lice and suffering from overgrown feet. Submitted picture.
The animals were discovered in varying states of emaciation, covered in lice and suffering from overgrown feet. Submitted picture.

Fifty-eight Amersham survivors remain in Redwings’ care 10 years on – 46 horses and donkeys are enjoying life at the sanctuary, while a further 12 have been rehomed to loving homes through the charity’s guardianship scheme.

Redwings will be remembering the landmark rescue and celebrating the survivors with a special series of activities and events throughout the year, including the launch of a new fund to help care for the Amersham horses and donkeys for the next ten years.

Supporters will be able to purchase exclusive gifts inspired by the Amersham survivors, contribute to a charitable art sale, attend a memorial service and enjoy special meets and greets with some of the horses and donkeys at Redwings’ visitor centres across the country.

Mrs Cutress added: “I remember seeing the horses and donkeys as they arrived at Redwings and it wasn’t just their appalling physical state that shocked me, but their eerie quietness and sheer sadness.

“It wasn’t until weeks later when we heard the donkeys sing for their breakfast for the first time that we knew we had turned a corner in their recovery and they finally felt safe.

“It’s a testament to the hard work and love of our veterinary, rehabilitation and care teams that, despite their horrific neglect, so many of these horses and donkeys rescued from that terrible place are still enjoying happy lives 10 years on.”



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