Armed with knives, some knowledge of their prey and a large dose of cruelty, attackers are going after horses and ponies in pastures across France in what may be ritual mutilations.
Police are stymied by the macabre attacks that include slashings and worse. Most often, an ear - usually the right one - has been cut off, recalling the matador's trophy in a bullring.
Up to 30 attacks have been reported in France, from the mountainous Jura region in the east to the Atlantic coast, many this summer, the agriculture minister said Friday. One attack was registered in February, according to the newsmagazine Le Point. With each attack, the mystery only seems to grow.
"We are excluding nothing," Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie said Friday on France-Info, before heading to a riding club in the Saone-et-Loire region, in east central France, where a horse was attacked a day earlier.
"Ears are cut off, eyes removed, an animal is emptied of its blood ...," he said, spelling out the morbid fates befalling one of France's most beloved animals.
"All means are in motion to end this terror," the minister tweeted.
After the first solid sighting of an attacker, gendarmes in Auxerre, in Burgundy, released a composite sketch this week based on a description by a man who wrangled with two attackers at his animal refuge in a village in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comte region.
"I used to have confidence putting my horses out to pasture. Today, I have fear in my gut," Nicolas Demajean, who runs the refuge, Ranch of Hope," said Thursday on regional TV station France 3.