The president of the ARCH horse sanctuary, Jill Newman Rogers, headed to Huelva earlier this month to attend the celebrated El Rocío pilgrimage. However, the dedicated animal lover was not there to enjoy the festivities along with the thousands of devout worshipers. Jill had travelled to the religious site with Steffi, a qualified farrier, and animal rights lawyer, Aritz Toribio, to assist the animal welfare arm of the Guardia Civil (Seprona) and the Local Police to monitor the condition of the horses and mules.
The event is one of Andalucía's most eagerly-awaited spectacles, but it also raises much concern from animal rights groups who believe the horses and mules suffer unnecessarily.
"While the humans spend their weekend enjoying the celebrations it is often a stressful time for the animals. In the past, ARCH have been made aware of too many cases of cruelty, often resulting from ignorance," Jill said.
Jill and the teams checked and treated the animals, in particular for injuries resulting in ill-fitting tack, but this year, there were "few serious cases of neglect or abuse", she said.
Unfortunately for Jill, who is 80 years of age and relies on crutches after a recent hip operation, although this year's event saw little cause for concern for the horses, she found herself in a predicament of her own.
"There had been a mix up with our accommodation, so I, along with Steffi and a rescued Belgian sheepdog, had to sleep in the car," she explained.
Jill proposes to go again next year, but she says that she will be "booking her bed now".