Response to article on Lagos horse

(Algarve Resident, June 18 edition)
Dear Editor,  

I was very sad to read your one-sided account of the gypsies and the horse that died in Lagos. The public outcry that has resulted from the article has unfortunately, once again, created more prejudice against the Roma or gypsy community in the Algarve, based on an inaccurate and over-dramatized story. What the writer failed to include were any statements or interviews with the gypsy owners themselves, or the vet, who not only had been treating the horse prior to its death, but who had also performed the autopsy.  

I run a reputable equine charity, ARC Horse Welfare, which assists horse owners in need. Our aim is to give advice or assistance when needed and among the owners we work with are gypsies, which I have helped for more than three years.

Please understand that I do not always support their methods of caring for their horses, however they need as much help as any other person and you cannot generalise about them all being the same. There is negligence among the gypsies, but there is also negligence among other horse owners.  

The majority of the vet bill for this horse was being covered by our charity. The horse had been hit by a car four weeks prior to her death. She had very serious and underlying injuries from the car accident, which, according to the vet, ultimately led to her death. One of these injuries, a broken pelvis bone, was only seen during the autopsy.  

The day the car accident happened, the gypsy family called and went around to every vet in the area, as well as our charity to try and get medical treatment for the horse. They paid towards her treatment and were very attentive to the care that was given to her, regularly calling me to check they were giving it correctly. None of this previous information was reported in the article, and ultimately speculates to the fact that they killed her in broad daylight behind a police station. 

We have confirmed that she did not die as a result of the supposed “beatings”, which were in fact an effort from her owners to get her to stand up to save her. They knew full well (and in fact any horse owner knows) that a horse has more chance of dying if it is lying down for too long, and sometimes extreme force must be used to get them to stand up again. I do understand that, as an observer, this may have come across as violent and I am not belittling the eye witness report, but it is important people understand why this was going on. 

I spoke to the owners the day after the unfortunate incident and they explained that they had been trying to save her. They were rightfully upset as she had meant a lot to them, both as a companion animal but also due to her financial worth. They tried to find the vet that day, but, as it was a holiday, no one was at the clinic and they had no number to call. This does point to negligence and disorganisation on their part, however, once again, does not show the false claim of their apparent intent to kill another living being.

I would hope that your readers may have looked at this situation logically and wondered why they would want to kill one of their horses, being their main form of livelihood and income?

I also question why no one that witnessed this incident went to talk to them directly and ask them what was happening and if they could help, which is what I do on a regular basis. Instead hundreds of people chose to create an online hate campaign against them, some even threatening to “shoot every one of them”. 

If they had tried to talk to the owners that day they would have found a group of people desperately trying to save a horse who would have certainly accepted any kind of help. Though perhaps this family’s action was not the optimal approach, their intentions were good and they were trying to help the horse the only way they knew how.

I do hope you publish some of this account, as I feel it is only fair that people understand the full story.

Samantha Birch
ARC Horse Welfare