We’re delighted to introduce you to some of our key people – who bring dedication, skills and experience to our charity.
Our senior management team
Sarah Jane Williamson – Chief Executive
My career has spanned education, public health management and the charity sector at national level. I have extensive experience of leading innovation and improvement in health services and in organisational design, transformation and governance.
The Mare and Foal Sanctuary’s work in equine welfare is more relevant than ever from an ethical, environmental and ecological viewpoint and we are in a unique position to contribute to the global conversations about these.
The charity was founded on the principles that horses and ponies, as sentient beings and close companions to humans over the centuries, have a value and a purpose. We – and our wonderful supporters – believe this continues to be relevant in the 21st century, if not more so as people of all ages risk becoming disconnected from the natural world.
Having specialised in the mental health of children, young people and adults throughout my career, our work to reconnect horses, ponies and people to benefit each other’s health and wellbeing, is close to my heart.
Dawn Vincent – Director of Fundraising and Communications
Since a young age, I have been involved with horses, ponies, donkeys and mules and I absolutely adore them.
I was delighted to join The Mare and Foal Sanctuary in March 2019 after a career of more than 20 years working at The Donkey Sanctuary, a charity my Granny (Dr Elisabeth Svendsen MBE) founded. There, I had the privilege of working alongside Granny for many years, and I developed an extensive breadth of experience and knowledge of the charity and its fundraising and communications needs.
I was really drawn to this role at The Mare and Foal Sanctuary as I felt I could help make a difference at another deserving charity. I loved the ambitious strategic plans created by the team to make the world a better place for horses and ponies, and now I’m here playing my part in it, together with our incredibly loyal supporters who so generously donate and help us out in various ways.
Sarah Martin – Director of Finance / Company Secretary
After 12 years working in accountancy practices as a charity specialist and ten years in the public sector I became a member of the Mare and Foal Sanctuary Team in October 2014. It is a great responsibility to have control of the purse strings and ensure every penny of our supporters’ money is used to best deliver our charitable objectives to rescue, retrain and rehome as many horses and ponies as we can,
The best thing about the Sanctuary is the fantastic team of staff I get to work with and the wonderful care they give to horses and ponies who have not had the best start in life. We are all so grateful to our amazing supporters who make our work possible.
I am privileged to be part of a charity with such a great heritage and I am looking forward to the future.
Outside work I like to spend time with friends and family, especially my four grandchildren. We like to swim in the sea all year round and get the most out of the beautiful part of the world in which we live.
Syra Bowden – Director of Equine
As my mother founded the Sanctuary, I have been privileged to follow the journey of every horse and pony we have rescued, from the moment they come in.
In the early days where we struggled to make ends meet; ‘making do’ and stretching every penny to its limit, where we often shared yards and relied on people’s kindness to get by. Now, the support for mum’s legacy has grown and developed into a successful charity thanks to the extensive support we have from our loyal donors.
Throughout I have got to know and work with some incredible people. Their commitment and dedication is truly humbling and inspiring. I love what we do, the difference we make and I am looking forward to what the future holds, as I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.
Sue Cockayne – Co-chair of Trustees
I’ve mainly worked in the legal and charity sectors and now run my own HR consultancy business. I’ve been in HR for about 30 years, working my way up from the bottom. I have a good blend of clients but prefer to work with smaller businesses and charities where you can get to know the organisation and its people personally.
I have loved horses and ridden since I was about five. I used to draw pictures and keep books about ponies, dreaming one day to own one. I rode every week when I was younger. Many years later, when I had my own children, we became owners of a beautiful black Shetland pony called Bubbles. He was so patient and kind with all of us. One of the wonderful things that Bubbles taught me was that I don’t have to ride. I’m actually rubbish at riding, but I love spending time around horses. One sniff going into a stable or horse barn will instantly relax me.
When I saw the trustee opportunity at the Mare and Foal Sanctuary it felt like a good fit. I knew I had skills and experience that would be useful to the charity. The sanctuary has so much to offer to enhance the lives of horses and people by bringing the two together in a positive way. I want to make sure that people know about the Mare and Foal Sanctuary and the expertise it has and the value it brings to the lives of horses and ponies in the South West.
Helena Vega-Lozano – Co-chair of Trustees
I work at Deloitte where I am a partner and board member of the consultancy business and lead the financial services sustainability practice. I live with my family in Gloucestershire with our two horses and rescue dog. In my spare time I love being in nature either in my wildlife garden or out riding with my daughter in the local woods and parkland.
As a trustee, it’s great to be able to blend my business experience with my passion for equines. I am looking forward to helping shape the vision and direction of the charity over the next few years. I am also keen to continue to grow the reach of the Mare and Foal Sanctuary’s Equine Assisted Services including the mental health and equine education programmes.
The horse who will always have a special place in my heart was called Pedlar, a thoroughbred-cob cross. He was bought for my husband initially, but we ended up swapping horses as I fell in love with Pedlar. People often used to comment on the connection we had and how I became a better rider when I was with him. Pedlar and I went eventing and did lots of fun rides, but sometimes I think the best times were when we were enjoying each other’s company in the stable or field and just being companions. He died of old age a few years ago which was very sad, but I still have lots of pictures at home and many happy memories!
Donna Hallett – Trustee
My career was largely in retail and operations management before I moved into my current role in auditing and compliance. I also help run my husband’s woodcraft business. I love working with people and have a passion for learning, development and engagement.
I have owned and ridden horses since a young age and have enjoyed competitive and recreational equine activities over the years including showing native ponies and show jumping. I love the partnership you can create with equines and the journeys you have with each and every one of them. Having known about the charity since my childhood, I relate to the foundations, values and ambitions of the sanctuary. When the opportunity arose to join the board, it was only natural for me to embrace it. I have not looked back.
Being part of the continued growth of the charity and seeing the different aspects of equine welfare impacted by the sanctuary is particularly important to me. I am passionate about equine welfare and how we can prevent welfare cases by providing support and education for the wider equine community.
I know so many people who have had their lives touched by a special horse or pony. For me it was a palomino Welsh cob named Supra. She was with me from four years old until she passed away at 24. She embraced everything we tried. She loved the beach and would get very excited the minute her hooves hit the sand.
Yvette Bacon – Trustee
I qualified as an accountant and spent most of my career in the NHS in a variety of roles from management accounting, financial and strategic planning to data analysis and performance management.
I always wanted to use my own professional skills and experience as a volunteer in a charitable organisation. Having relocated to Devon in 2020 and seeing and reading about the fantastic work that the Mare and Foal Sanctuary did, the charity was the obvious choice.
Horses and ponies are a big part of my life. For the last 16 years I have supported my daughter with her interest in equines and riding. We even took on a loan horse as a family with the inevitable responsibilities of early mornings and late evenings spent grooming, feeding and mucking out. My daughter has developed this passion and has just qualified as a vet and is about to start work in a specialist equine hospital.
I am passionate that the sanctuary is a home for life for those animals that need a long-term, safe environment where they can be given the physical and emotional care they need to ensure a happy life. I was, and still am, astounded by the developments and progress that the charity is making in equine welfare. I am also extremely impressed with the work that the charity is doing in the area of Equine Assisted Services.
As a trustee, I am most looking forward to utilising my professional skills in finance to assist the charity in taking forward its objectives and aspirations and to help make the charity a continued success.
Rebecca-Rafiyah Findlay – Trustee
I’ve enjoyed an extensive and successful career in campaigning, fundraising, public relations and engagement in the voluntary and public sector. This is accompanied by a lifelong passion for sustainability and animal welfare. In my personal life, I’m proud to have a beautiful mixed heritage through my British-Egyptian family and a young daughter who keeps me on my toes.
I’m currently part of the senior communications and management team for an NHS acute hospital trust. I’ve been in the NHS during the entire Coronavirus pandemic. The word ‘extraordinary’ feels inadequate to describe the experience, but I’ve come out of it being a more thoughtful and confident leader.
I’m particularly looking forward to bringing my knowledge and talent to help the sanctuary develop supporter engagement. Everyone who clicks on a social media post, walks into one of our charity shops, or donates the smallest amount of money is a cherished supporter. Our supporters are everything. As a trustee I’m absolutely dedicated to making sure they are at the heart of all we do (alongside our gorgeous horses and ponies of course).
I was thrilled to get an interview to be a trustee at the Mare and Foal Sanctuary. Arriving for my interview I was hideously nervous. At my tour around the site, I met a beautiful pony called Milli. Milli just stood there ‘being’ with me. She calmed and soothed me and helped me see the bigger picture of what the amazing work at the Mare and Foal Sanctuary is all about.
Jane Williams – Trustee
I am an Associate Professor and Head of Research at Hartpury University. I am an experienced researcher, with a passion for enhancing equine performance and wellbeing through industry-informed, real-world research that generates change.
I qualified as a veterinary nurse then gained a Masters in Equine Science before completing a doctorate and have published over 100 research articles as well as regularly presenting at international equine conferences. I am also Honorary President for the International Society of Equitation Science and a member of the editorial board of Comparative Exercise Physiology and Animals journals.
Horse and ponies have been a consistent feature in my life and have been some of my best friends as well as inspiring me within my career. As a trustee, I am looking forward to understanding more about the work the charity does and its impact. I am also keen to see if my experience and expertise in equine research can be of use. For me, everything comes back to equine quality of life and developing evidence to provide objective, reliable and valid foundations to how we interact with horses.
One of the biggest equine influences in my life was a Cleveland Bay x thoroughbred mare called Phoebe, who sadly is no longer with us. Pheebs was a real character right from the start. She excelled in show jumping and gave me the confidence to compete at levels I never thought I would achieve. She was always there through good and bad and I still miss her friendly face and huge ears every day.
Jacqueline Watton – Trustee
I’m a specialist speech and language therapist. I work across Devon with children aged between three months and 18 years who are deaf or deafblind. I set up the service and have provided this care and support for Devon children and their families for 22 years. Prior to this I worked in Australia as a speech and language therapist for children with cerebral palsy. Before training as a speech therapist, I was a dessert chef in a local hotel!
I have had horses all my life. My mum taught me to ride. I’ve owned, cared for and ridden a wide range of horses during my life from Shetlands to Shires. Although I’ve never been drawn to competitive riding, I ride at least three times a week. Come rain or shine I also have the day-to-day care of my cobs. From bringing them in at night with a head torch to mucking out at 6am! My cobs are where I find some peace and refuge at the end of a busy working day.
With my background in therapy and communication, my passion for horses and my insight into how my own horses support my wellbeing, I am particularly interested in the work the sanctuary is doing with Equine Assisted Services. I hope to use my knowledge and experience to support the development of this area. As a trustee, I’m looking forward to learning about how the charity does what it does as well as finding out more about the people that work for and support the charity.
Emma Dunford – Trustee
I am a risk management professional and provide strategic leadership, direction, management and oversight for all aspects of risk, assurance and insurance. I am currently working in the social housing sector and have previously worked in both financial services and aviation.
As a child, come rain or shine, I spent all my weekends and school holidays working at my local riding school. I loved nothing more than spending time outdoors caring for horses and ponies.
I was looking for an opportunity to contribute to an organisation that has kindness and compassion at its heart. The Mare and Foal Sanctuary was a natural fit for me. As a trustee I am looking forward to seeing the development of the Equine Assisted Services the Mare and Foal Sanctuary offers and hearing about the experiences of those who take part.
For me, making sure that horses and ponies have a safe and secure home for life and ensuring that they will always be cared for and never have to be scared or frightened again is so important. I used to ride and spend time with a black cob named Bess. If she spotted me across the field, she would come straight over for a cuddle. I still remember how special that felt all these years later.