More than 30 animals have been attacked by a man or men who have been dubbed the 'horse rippers' because the injuries have included cuts to the sexual organs of the victims.
The attacks centred on two areas in Hampshire and on the Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire border have been coming with increasing frequency, with the latest this week. Police have warned that there are probably copycat attackers at work, and not just one man or one gang.
Horse owners throughout the south of England have been trying to guard against the attacks, but horses in fields or even in stables are difficult to protect around the clock.
Speaking about the children trying to protect their animals yesterday, Angie Johnson, of the Portsmouth-based Horse Watch group, said: 'We've had little girls who have been sleeping in their horses' stables all night because they are terrified of the Ripper.
'Worried parents have phoned me at 10pm to get me to talk to their daughters and dissuade them from sleeping in the stables. It's getting slightly out of proportion when you think that little girls are putting their lives at risk.'
A former chief psychologist at Broadmoor hospital for the criminally insane, Tony Black, said there was a chance the attacker would turn on children if he found them with their animals. 'I would strongly advise parents not to let their children sleep outside in stables. If this person or people were to be disturbed they could turn on that person.'
A spokesman for Hampshire Police, which has set up an incident room to co-ordinate the hunt under the name 'operation Mountbatten' after the first mare to be killed, urged children not to sleep by their ponies.
In the latest of the series of attacks, a heavily pregnant mare was sexually assaulted. Georgie Girl, due to foal in two months, was attacked in her field on Thursday despite having been checked twice a day by her owner, Kate Bucket.
Mrs Bucket, 36, of Upham, Hampshire, said the 16-year-old horse had been indecently attacked with a large object, and suffered cuts to her genitals.
'The vet has been carrying out a series of tests and we are just praying that the foal she is carrying has not been harmed,' she said.
She spoke of the physical impossibility of protecting horses against attack: 'The mare's field is overlooked by several houses, and the people there have been keeping an eye out for anything strange, yet still this happened. It is just impossible to keep horses totally secure and there is little more we could do to protect a mare which is kept in a field.'
After the attack police appealed for a blonde woman in her thirties and a man seen in the area in an F-registered BMW saloon car to contact them in case they saw the attackers. Rewards of pounds 20,000 have been offered for information leading to convictions. Two weeks ago the police issued descriptions of two suspects wanted in connection with attacks in 1991 on a horse and a cow but have received little response.
This week two seven-year-old New Forest ponies, Fax and Leo, were attacked between Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon in a field at Landford, in Wiltshire. One had his mane and tail cropped, the other part of his mane. Police do not think the attack was committed by 'the rippers' as there were no sexual injuries.
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