Three horses standing under the tree
Picture of rescued horses by Janine Behrens

One of EEWA’s key objectives is to raise awareness of the equine welfare situation in Europe and support people that work to better equine welfare. In this report, we’ll offer you a chance to see the equine welfare situation in Portugal from a perspective of a civic activist Patrícia Pereira. Patrícia is the founder of a civic movement called Pelos Equídeos, which translates to “for the equines” in English. Patrícia has dedicated the past 1,5 years to the purpose of changing the Portuguese laws to protect the equines better, so she truly has a firsthand experience about this issue.

We met Patrícia in November 2019 when we were visiting organizations and people who work with equine welfare issues in Portugal and Spain. At that time, Pelos Equídeos was still collecting signatures for their petition which aims to guarantee the legal protection of the Portuguese equidae. Pelos Equídeos delivered the petition to the Assembly of Republic with 11,500 signatures of Portuguese people. If the petition succeeds, it will make a huge difference in equine welfare in Portugal.

The purpose of this report is not only to raise awareness, but also to ask equestrians all over Europe to show that we too stand for the rights of all equines in Portugal. Now, as the petition is handed to the Portuguese Assembly of Republic, we have a chance to raise our voices to give Portuguese equines a better future. Now is the right time to show that we don’t accept the ill-treatment and abandonment of equines that happens every day in Portugal. Things need to change.


The equine welfare situation in Portugal from Patrícia’s viewpoint

Patrícia has now spent 1,5 years reporting cases of neglect and ill-treatment of horses and other equines to the Portuguese authorities. In short, she describes the Portuguese equine welfare situation as very dramatic and disastrous. She told us that from her viewpoint, Portugal is a country with two sides when it comes to equines:

“Portugal is a country with strong equestrian traditions, holder of the much admired Lusitano horses. The country organizes historic and stunning equestrian events. This “wonderful world” ends up masking the other side of reality, the dark side: the excessive reproduction with questionable control, the uncertain fate of foals that are born without the desired characteristics and horses that have ceased to serve the purpose of their owners. Many of these animals end up pulling carts until they collapse, or abandoned to hunger and thirst until they die, or in traffic for clandestine slaughter.”

A malnourished horse tied to the ground in Moita, Portugal

In addition to this, Patrícia brought up people’s insensitivity towards equines. One example of such insensitivity towards horses and other animals is the tradition of bullfighting. For some, it might come as a surprise that bulls are not the only animals suffering from this brutal tradition. Horses are deeply involved too, since in Portugal the bullfighter usually rides a horse in the arena. This, of course, causes the horse unbelievable physical suffering – not to mention the stress and fear. 

Patrícia also thinks that current laws are not protecting horses and other equines. She has faced many situations where the legislation has failed to protect the equines. She says:

”Current laws and enforcement methods are not discouraging to violence against equines and are proven insufficient in the effective protection of these animals. Usually the cases are extremely violent and still not considered a crime. The penalties are reduced to fines that are often not paid and cases are archived in the process.”

She also recognizes that the Portuguese authority doesn’t have the means to act effectively in order to protect horses and other equines:

“The lack of means: the absence of sanctuaries or appropriate places to receive equines, means that they are maintained with the aggressors. Most police stations do not have microchip readers, or even adequate transportation for horses.”

This means that despite the efforts of the rescuers, even violent cases of neglect can end up with the owner keeping the horse and receiving no consequences for the suffering they have caused. Often, the situation unfortunately doesn’t get any better over time.


Patrícia tells us that even if a horse is clearly suffering or close to death, there’s not much you can do without the owner’s permission. She says that if someone rescued the horse without the owner’s permission, they could be accused of theft. According to Patrícia, there have been many unfortunate cases where the owners have refused to give the horse up. Many who work at rescue organizations report that this is the most devastating and frustrating part of their work; seeing a horse suffering and being unable to help it.

Patrícia gave us a devastating example of this kind of situation. In December 2019 they tried to rescue the horse in the shocking pictures  below. Patrícia doesn’t know the official name of the horse, but she and her colleagues call him Blondie. Blondie didn’t have a microchip and Pelos Equídeos obtained an authorization to rescue it. Pelos Equídeos arranged a vet, a transport and an adopter who agreed to rehabilitate the horse. Arranging all this took a lot of effort; the rescue operation involved several people who spent the night under a storm at Blondie’s side. However, Blondie’s owner showed up and the police handed him back to the owner. This is how Patrícia described her feelings:

“It is desperate to see the animal there, hungry, thirsty, often injured, and not be able to help it.  You make every effort, discuss with the authorities, and all without success.”

Pictures of Blondie by Pelos Equídeos

Unfortunately, this is only one example of many similar cases. It is also a clear example of why Pelos Equídeos is needed and why the importance of their petition can’t be emphasized enough. There needs to be a change in Portuguese legislation regarding horses and other equines.


Three horses running in sun
Picture of rescued horses by Janine Behrens

The biggest goal of Pelos Equídeos is to improve the legal protection of horses and other equines through their petition. Patrícia sums up the key points of the petition as follows:

“The key points of the petition are precisely the request for criminalization of ill-treatment and abandonment, more inspections, support for associations dedicated to receiving equines and means for the authorities to act effectively.”

Patrícia believes that if the key points of the petition are reached, there will be a significant reduction in illegal activity. She believes that the owners of equines will change their behavior regarding the welfare of their animals, if the ill-treatment and abandonment of horses and other equines is criminalized. Patrícia and her colleagues believe the final decision regarding the petition will be made in the summer of 2020.

We also asked Patrícia, if there is something people living abroad could do to help. This is her answer:

“Yes! We ask people to be aware of what happens in Portugal with equines and to spread the word. We also ask that, as much as possible, they support our associations which do not have any government support. In addition, there are many equines who are victims of suffering waiting for a home. Consider adopting in Portugal.”

These are great pieces of advice for the rest of us. However, if you are considering adopting, please be careful! Make sure that you aren’t accidentally creating a market for malnourished equines: get to know the rescue organization properly and visit, if possible.

The importance of this petition can’t be emphasized enough, as it could fix many of the biggest problems related to equine welfare in Portugal. By sharing this report and posts concerning this issue, you are joining us on the mission of raising awareness and showing that we care. Now is the time to raise our voices, as it might be crucial in order to give a better future of equines in Portugal.


Founding EEWA and building organizational infrastructure

EEWA's Vice President Jasmin Niemelä (on the left) and Their Voice Portugal's President Sharon Clarke (on the right) giving rescued horse, Joao, a bath at TVP in 2018

Equines are in desperate need of help

We feel that now it is a good time to look back at 2019 and what we at EEWA have been working on. EEWA was founded in February 2019, and the first year was the year of building everything from scratch. It all started when we, the founders of EEWA, volunteered at an equine rescue organization Their Voice Portugal in 2018. We saw too many serious cases of neglect and after returning to Finland felt like we couldn’t walk away from it anymore. Most of the problems were caused by a huge lack of knowledge. Therefore, we decided to establish an association that spreads awareness, provides education and works together with equine rescue organizations.

Elmo asking if his food is ready at TVP
Dahlia, one of the horses that TVP has rescued

Equines need a network of compassion and care

We believe that improving equine welfare can be done by creating a network of people who want to make a difference and help horses and other equines. Hence, year 2019 consisted of building EEWA’s network and meeting dozens of amazing people. We attended Hanko Seahorse Week, Helsinki Horse Fair and The Horses Fair in Tampere, as well as visited rescue organizations in Spain and Portugal. In between these meetings, we built our infrastructure, took care of the administrative work, did a lot of research, and explored the best ways to help horses and equines in Europe. 

Launching the first concrete activities

At EEWA Equine Welfare Seminar in Helsinki, October 2019

The first EEWA Equine Welfare Seminar

In October 2019 we organized our first seminar in which the theme was a science-based and horse-friendly approach to working with horses. During the two-day seminar in Helsinki the participants saw presentations by six amazing equine professionals. In the seminar, we talked about the needs and behavior of horses as well as the role of emotions and training when working with horses. Speakers were equine professionals who truly viewed the horse as an animal with feelings and needs, instead of an object that exists to serve humans. Promoting the intrinsic value of equines is important to EEWA, and it was critical that the speakers at the seminar shared our view. 

Panel discuession with Nina Laiho, Heta Rautiainen and Verna Vilppula
Heta Rautiainen talked about critical thinking and scientific knowledge

The seminar was a success and we received great feedback from the participants. This first seminar required a lot of work, so we were extremely happy everything went so well. We were especially grateful for the warm, accepting and friendly atmosphere – thank you everyone who took part in the seminar! 

EEWA's President Elisa Seppo thanking seminar speakers Katariina Alongi, Aino Koivukunnas and Kati Riesen
EEWA's Vice President Jasmin and President Elisa on the stage giving a presentation about EEWA

During the year, it became even clearer that education is an important focal point to EEWA. Seminars are a great way for us to share science-based knowledge and raise awareness in Northern European countries. Above all, however, seminars are a good way to raise money for our educational projects in countries with striking equine welfare problems. After all, this is what we want to focus on and the reason EEWA was founded.

Creating hope through education - in the search for cooperation projects

EEWA's President Elisa and Vice President Jasmin in Spain meeting Veronica Sanchez (in the middle) from Refugio del Burrito and Jill Newman-Rogers (on the right) from ARCH

Getting familiar with equine rescues
of Portugal and Spain

After the first seminar we shifted our focus to our trip to Spain and Portugal. During this trip we met people who work in various ways to improve equine welfare in Spain and Portugal. During our nine-day visit, we met people from ARCH (Andalucian Rescue Centre for Horses), El Refugio del Burrito (Donkey Sanctuary in Spain), Their Voice Portugal, Country Quest Portugal, Algarve Horse Alarm and Pelos Equideos. In order to build a common ground for possible collaborative projects in the future, the purpose of the trip was to meet and become acquainted with people who are working to improve equine welfare.

Visiting Refugio del Burrito (Donkey Sanctuary in Spain)
EEWA's President Elisa and a donkey that was rescued from Mijas (Spain) where he used to pull a donkey taxi

During the visit we learned a lot and had many great and insightful conversations. We discussed equine welfare problems in Spain and Portugal, relating to e.g. people’s beliefs and habits, socio-economic situation, and legislation. In addition, we found some common interests and agreed on the importance of education to improve horse and equine welfare in these countries. We also met rescued horses and donkeys, and heard their heart-breaking rescue stories. 

TVP's President Sharon Clarke and EEWA's President Elisa saying hi to Sakura who stole Elisa's heart already in 2018
Happy horses enjoying each others company and freedom to move and express themselves at Country Quest Portugal

As devastating as it was to see all the neglected equines and hear their rescue stories, we are grateful for all the meetings we had with the amazing people who are dedicated to helping these horses and equines. We are also as determined as ever to do everything we can to improve horse and equine welfare in Europe. 

Closing the first year and opening EEWA’s second year full of amazing projects

Horses standing in a misty sunset
Rescued horses at Their Voice Portugal (©Janine Behrens)

Overall, 2019 consisted of a lot of learning, succeeding and failing, big emotions, and getting to know the field. By the end of 2019, EEWA has gone a long way as an association: we now have a good network of people wanting to make a change and a clear focus on what we should work on. This enables us to start focusing more on concrete projects to improve equine welfare in the long run. 

Rescued donkey that we met at Refugio del Burrito (Donkey Sanctuary in Spain)
EEWA's President Elisa and horses at Country Quest Portugal

We want to thank our 2019 seminar speakers and equine professionals: Katariina Alongi, Aino Koivukunnas, Kati Riesen, Verna Vilppula, Heta Rautiainen and Nina Laiho, Seminar Team: Aurora Renvall and Ella Svahn, Marketing Team: Mira Färm, Laura Färm and Mimosa Tuomi, and Coach Sanni Kotilainen. Thank you our collaborative business partners and rescue organizations. And last but not least, our Supportive Members and followers: Thank you, without you this wouldn’t have been possible. 

let’s make sure
that at the end of 2020
Europe is a better place
for horses and equines!