'Horse whisperer' struggles to understand slasher psychology

Since June, there have been four apparently pre-meditated attacks on horses at his stables, near Marlborough, Wiltshire.

In the first attack a filly, Rioja, was cut under the tail with almost surgical precision - leaving a two-inch deep, four-inch long cut across its genitals. The weapon used was either a scalpel or craft knife.

A month later a second unnamed racehorse was attacked in an almost identical manner, but this time it was cut from left to right.

In September a three-month-old colt, Mio Brujo, received a nine-inch wound, two inches deep, again across the genitals.

Earlier this month Rioja was attacked again. This time it was slashed under the belly, developing a life-threatening infection from which it has yet to recover.

Mr Witheford is known in horseracing circles as the "horse whisperer" for his empathic relationship with animals, travelling all over the country rehabilitating problem horses for their owners. He believes he knows what is going on.

"It is part of some kind of ritual. The body of a horse is similar to a man's. The blood is at the same temperature. Whoever is doing this is taking blood for some ritual," he said.

It is estimated that as many as 80 horses are attacked each year, with many of the attacks centred on the sex organs. In September, just across the border in Hampshire, two ponies were shot with a crossbow. In Kent last month, two horses had their tales cut off and hung on trees. One of the animals bled to death.

Reports of horse-slashing surface periodically - normally starting and finishing abruptly with no explanation. While some doubt the macabre phenomenon, believing it to be self-inflicted or accidental, there appears to be mounting evidence to the contrary.

In 2003 police investigated 12 incidents in a triangle of villages in Derbyshire and South Yorkshire. The perpetrators left "calling cards" of sticks and branches.

In the 1990s, Hampshire Police investigated between 20-30 attacks as part of an 18-month inquiry into equine attacks.

But catching the slashers has proved problematic. Neighbours of the Marlborough stables have reported seeing a white Ford Transit van in the vicinity of the paddock where all three horses have been slashed. A man in his 50s, wearing a flat cap, was spotted getting out of the van before it drove off, prompting fears the slashers may be working in a team.

"These people are sick," Mr Witheford said. "Horses will forgive but they won't forget. They have been left not just physically damaged but also mentally scarred."

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
peopleBenjamin Netanyahu trolled by group promoting two-state solution
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Life and Style
fashionEveryone, apparently
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style