Remus Horse Sanctuary Celebrates 40th Anniversary

2023 sees Remus Horse Sanctuary in Essex celebrate its 40th anniversary. Sue Burton, founder of the charity in 1983, recounts how it all started and those first ten years:

“Coming from London I had never met a horse so was amazed when having moved to Essex, on a trip to see a friend I noticed a field full of horses and remember thinking how many there were. I knew nothing about them and therefore was oblivious to the fact that these horses were in desperate need of help, until I saw the photograph on the front page of the Romford Recorder in February 1983 [pictured] about the horses at Rainham Marshes, and this is what got me started.

“I could not believe that in this day and age we allowed animals to die and did nothing. This gave me the impetus to go back over and try to help and contact other animal welfare people in the area – friendships and acquaintances that have lasted to this day.

“After being involved with the Rainham Marsh horses, my friend Pat and I soon heard of the awful plight of Remus [pictured]. Again, I could not believe that another horse had died, another entity wiped out, and yet so few people seemed to care. 

“Before long, I was involved in an animal rights group and because Pat had equine knowledge, she and I went out to see a horse that was meant to be in a bad way and in particular her foal was becoming a nuisance – apparently attacking people on the footpath. We went out to Hornchurch and found Misty [pictured], tethered with the most enormous swollen face and her foal – cheeky chappie Pickles running amok in the area! 

“We were able to take them both and took them to a yard in Aveley where sadly the vet diagnosed Misty as having a fractured skull, which had happened some months before when she was one of those horses left on Rainham Marshes. We had no option but to end her suffering and let her go but poor Pickles was distraught. It took many months for him to start interacting and playing again. He remained a cheeky chappie all his life and loved getting up to mischief when he was able to.

“Once we had Pickles, we had to find somewhere to keep him so took on a few stables and fields in Havering-atte-Bower. Then followed Jenna donkey with severely overgrown hooves; Butch a 5-day-old calf who had been left to die, and then Caesar [pictured] who had been illegally castrated and left in a stable on 5 ft of dung. Instead of mucking him out the owner just had a square of the roof cut out for his head to stick out, the entire length of his spine was cut where it had rubbed against the roof. It was pitiful to see him, and it took many visits before we were able to convince the owner to let us take him.

“In these situations, it’s always important to achieve what you need – to get the animal out of the awful situation and you don’t want to upset the owner as you want to help the animal. We have always said a large part of our work is social work before we can help the animal. This was a perfect example – as I remember only too clearly her dog constantly chewing on my wrist – which I put up with as I so wanted to get Caesar out of there! When we did get him out the first year was fraught with him needing an operation, him dragging us almost daily face down across the muck heap and nearly giving Pat an unplanned mastectomy. Funny now but not then!

“We went on to take in many animals and I always recall getting a call in 1987 to some horses in Essex. We stumbled late at night over fields that were 3-4 ft deep in snow. I gave up trying to count how many times we fell over in the snow in the pitch darkness. When we entered the Barn we stopped dead in our tracks – as an animal Belsen met us.

“Emaciated, lice infested animals, without food, water or bedding. Their urine frozen to the ground. The youngsters had never been let out and did not know how to walk and, when we could take the horses out the next day, we had to move each leg for the youngsters as they did not appear to be able to walk. The bigger one Benjamin [pictured] had had a stake rammed through his stifle (the area where the tibia meets the femur) which went on to cause him problems throughout his life. We took five horses out and all had such awful problems. Getting them well became all-consuming and we worked so hard to give them the best we could to allow them to go on to lead healthy lives and to forget about all they had experienced at such a young age.

“The cases came in thick and fast – horses kept in houses, the awful plight of the Rush Green Horses – suffering seemed to be everywhere, and we did what we could for those that we could. For Ben who had been left with a fractured pelvis and we couldn’t save, despite a scaffold company, the Fire Brigade and vets involved in trying to assist him.

“Little Heidi came to us in 1987 at just 5 days old. Her mum had been tethered and had died on the chain and Heidi was left with a headcollar that had cut into her face. She needed years of care including operations to get her well but went on to live a lovely life, except when she got us into trouble having decided it was fun to pick people up by their clothing and push them into the ditch!

“In 1992 Dorset came in pitifully thin and covered in cigarette burns – as you can see from the photo.


“The most rewarding part of the job is to get the animals beyond what they have suffered. To get the weight on, to ease their mental suffering, to help them get over what they have suffered, and it never fails to amaze me that whatever they suffer at the hands of humanity – they always begin to trust again!

“It’s just an amazing feeling to be able to win their trust after all that they have endured.”

The story obviously continues and hopefully will for many years to come but, in conclusion, Sue says: “I am so proud of what Remus has achieved in its 40 years. I am proud of where we are now and how much we have improved. I am proud of everyone who is involved now and has been involved over those years in whatever way to help develop us to do the work we now achieve.”

Look out for further information on the website and Facebook page, as the charity celebrates throughout the year.

Remus Horse Sanctuary is fundraising for winter food. Learn more here >

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