There are drones supervising pens and fields, vigilant groups among horse breeders working day and night, police following every lead, numerous investigations in progress, official hot lines open permanently — yet a sense of doom spreading as a mysterious series of macabre mutilations, and in many cases killings, of horses reportedly occurring in pastures across France.
Still, no culprits have been found, nor explanations nor motives for the crimes.
Just this weekend two horses were victims of an assault in Domessin, near Chambéry in Savoie, according to Le Dauphiné Libéré. The assault, discovered by a nearby horseback-riding instructor alerted by barking dogs at midnight and who noticed a car fleeing the scene, has added to growing fear and paranoia as the cases seem to be multiplying in recent weeks.
The attacks, which include slashings most often of an ear (usually the right one), eyes gouged out and genitals mutilated, are apparently perpetrated with knives during the night and are prompting public outcry and fear beyond horse owners and breeders, stables, equestrian clubs and equestrian centers.
They’re also triggering multiple theories, with satanic cults topping the list.
Fear, Tensions, Rumors
According to media reports in France, there are approximately 200 investigations in progress, with special police units patrolling large areas where some of the incidents have taken place, horse owners installing electrified gates, padlocks, surveillance cameras and drones.
Many are spending the nights near their animals.
“Justice for our Horses,” a private Facebook group set up to share stories and advice and started by the owner of Lady, one of the horses that reportedly was killed in June near Dieppe on the Atlantic coast, already has more than 17,000 members.
With such self-help groups increasing on social networks, the French horse world gripped by fear and tensions growing, various national equine federations and the national police “have established a partnership to reinforce their efforts in the prevention of attacks against the animals that have multiplied in the last weeks,” reports Ouest France.
Chilling Potential Motives
“Since August, acts of mutilation, mainly of horses, have been reported across the country,” the national police confirmed in a press release. “About 200 investigations have been opened but only about 30 cases are considered to be of human nature.”
The recent agreement between horse organizations and the police was signed by the National Federation of Horse Councils, the French Equestrian Federation, the French Society of Working Equids, the French Institute of Horse and Riding and the National Federation of Horse Racing.
Police include chilling internet “challenges” relayed through social media and the morbid rites of satanic cults or copycats among the potential motives and are convinced multiple perpetrators are involved.
“Speculation is widespread as to how barbaric acts, some surgical, could be perpetrated without solid knowledge of equine anatomy or on a horse in a pasture presumably able to flee,” writes The Guardian.
Aude Giraudet, chief of the equine division at the National Veterinary School of Alfort outside Paris offers an explanation: “A fearful horse in a pasture won’t get caught. The horse that feels confident with people…will come, find it normal that you put a harness on it or a rope around its neck. I’m not sure you need great knowledge of horses.”
“We are excluding nothing,” said France’s agriculture minister, Julien Denormandie told France Info radio as he announced the creation of a toll-free number for the public to call with information. “We have an unacceptable situation of absolutely sickening cruelty acts. I hear the fear, the concerns, the disarray of horse owners.”
Media Coverage and Copycats
Given the number of departments where the attacks have occurred and the distances between them, investigators are considering if “the criminal acts are committed by several people and according to different modus operandi.”
According to the police, tmore than 20 cases of cut ears have been reported. But there also have been cases of genital mutilation and lacerations with sharp objects.
“It could therefore be a morbid challenge on which several individuals would have embarked, encouraged by the strong media interest generated by these cases of mutilation,” Nouvel Observateur writes. “The media coverage may have prompted some people to act by imitation.”
The magazine analyzed various scenarios considered until now, starting with the theory of a satanic rite. “Can these acts of cruelty be the work of a sect or a satanist group? Or is this just a fantasy?”
According to officials, there is no evidence of a link with a possible sect or movement . “But certain facts recall practices linked to sectarian rituals and, in particular, so-called satanic (rites),” the magazine noted.
A special government office in charge of the observation and analysis of sects’ activity has noted that generally the sacrifices linked to these types of movements involve small animals and not horses.
Organ trafficking is another of the theories considered. “Organs and tissues could be sold by crooked veterinarians,” Nouvel Observateur reports. Forensic investigation found traces of ante-mortem poisoning in horses discovered dead and mutilated on August 23 and 24 in the Jura region. “The modus operandi augurs a particular knowledge of equines, the use of a large knife, with individuals of certain physical strength.”
Scavengers, Psychosis and Confusion
Other theories discount human perpetrators in many of the cases. According to the newspaper Liberation, “human responsibility has been probed only in a quarter of the cases of mutilation.”
According to some specialists, scavenger animals (birds and insects included) “like to attack the most tender parts, like ears, eyes, genitals.” Le Monde points out that “wounds caused by scavengers can be mistaken for blows from a stabbing weapon.”
Such has been the case, according to Liberation, in other European countries where similar situations have occurred and where “there were a lot of natural deaths and the activity of scavengers.”
Satanic rites or natural causes? Macabre challenges or scavengers? The hypotheses, rumors and fake information abound, spreading fear and confusion.
“While Internet users are hunting down possible suspects, the gendarmes denounce a climate of paranoia and call on people not to take justice into their own hands,” Liberation writes.
Among horse owners, farmers and equestrian organizations, there’s a drive to vigilantism in which “the publication of reports, photos of people or vehicles appearing suspicious — most often white pick-ups, or refrigerated trucks with license plates to support them — even drones, become suspects.”
The commander of a police station in western France explained that “since we have heard about this phenomenon in the media, we have had dozens of phone calls per day to report a vehicle stopped near an enclosure and of suspicious persons lurking. Sometimes it was a family with children who wanted to stop to see the horses.”