Husband and wife team Jon and Kathryn Dobson set up Equine Rescue France after being shocked by the conditions for transporting horses across the country.
The group is a non-profit organisation created in September 2007 and run by volunteers with the aim of improving the welfare of horses in France.
“My husband, Jon, our friend Trina Summerfield and I were first made aware of the way that horses are treated in France when we went to a fattening field to rescue a horse,” said ERF President Kathryn Dobson. “It really opened our eyes to the transporting of horses through Europe and the awful conditions they are subjected to.”
The trio met on an internet forum as they had an interest in rescuing a horse and wanted to do it with others. The foals are generally born in Spain, where at a young age they are packed into trailers and transported to the north of France where there is more grass and greenery to fatten them up. Once they are fattened, it is usual for them to be transported to Italy and killed.
Mrs Dobson said: “We cannot say anything against the French and the Italians eating horse meat, it is clearly part of their culture and we understand that. Horses here are treated like farm animals and bred for meat like cows and sheep are in England.
“We cannot do anything to stop this and nor do we want to - we just want to change legislation so that these foals are no longer subjected to 36-hour journeys across Europe just so that the Italians can have fresh meat which, when killed in Italy, can be claimed to be Italian meat.”
Tens of thousands of these animals pass through France each year. Although the ERF does save some of them, it would be a futile gesture to save more. “If we save one, that one horse will simply be replaced by another, and then another. We must attack the legislation so that all of the equines can be saved this horrific journey. If we don't try, nothing will happen,” said Mrs Dobson.
The ERF works closely with similar organisations in England and across Europe. The majority of their work is with the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH), a large association in England supporting equine welfare, and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA). They are working on EU levels.
“The association itself has saved four or five horses, although we work to put people in touch with equines so that they can rescue them independently from us. We have facilitated the rescue of nearly 40 horses this way.
“The first pony that we saved was facing a winter chained in a barn with nothing but mouldy hay and his own company. A concerned neighbour let us know about him and we raised enough money to buy him off the owner before giving him a new home with a loving family.” In June the association also rescued three donkeys who were showing severe signs of neglect.
Mrs Dobson and her husband moved to Geneva from Northumberland five years ago for work. They arrived in Civray in the Vienne two years ago and she has since founded a school for English expatriate children, Accents, to improve their English reading, writing and grammar.
The association mainly works through donations, fundraisers, merchandise sales and volunteering. There are regular fundraising events which are listed on the association's website www.equinerescuefrance.org.
You can contact Mrs Dobson and the organisation directly on 05 49 97 10 17.