Semi-feral Dartmoor hill pony mares will receive a contraceptive injection – to tackle the problem of overbreeding – in what will be a UK first.

The project, which aims to reduce the number of foals being left unsold and going to slaughter (news, 20 October 2011), has now been given the go-ahead.

It has permission from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate to import the drug from Australia.

World Horse Welfare vet Keith Meldrum has been working with the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association and pharmaceutical company Pfizer on the plan to inject 20 mares.

The mares will be given the injection when they are rounded up in late spring. Four weeks later they will have a second dose.

After six months they will be blood-tested to see if their oestrus levels have been suppressed successfully.

If the mares respond positively, they will receive a further dose that will last until spring 2013. If it works, the programme may be used on other native breeds.

“We are hoping that, if successful, this could become a long-term solution to the issue of overbreeding within semi-feral populations,” said Mr Meldrum.

“The mares can come back in-foal after treatment – there is simply a reduction in foal production for the duration of the project.”

Charlotte Faulkner from the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association added: “The adult numbers need to be maintained for the benefit of the moor, but the foal crop needs reducing as there is no market. Controlling the production of unwanted foals will ensure their welfare.”

This news story was first published in the current issue of H&H (15 March 2012)