Thermal imaging and a small plane belonging to the Royal Marines were used to rescue horses from a farm in north-east Scotland in a unique operation led by World Horse Welfare.

The rescue mission, which started on 16 May, also involved armed forces charity HorseBack UK, the Royal Marines and the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies.

An elderly farmer had told the equine charity he was no longer able to sustain the herd of 93 semi-feral, Highland-type horses and ponies who were breeding indiscriminately on his 1,000-acre farm.

World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers said it was one of the largest-scale operations the charity has been involved with and the first time they have worked with non-equine charities.

“The operation has been expensive,” admitted Mr Owers. “But it is a fraction of what a full-scale rescue operation would have cost several months down the line.”

Thermal imaging was used to track down all the stallions, mares and foals.

Five vets and nine students from the Edinburgh vet school were on site for three days to castrate stallions, deal with veterinary problems and issue passports and microchips.

Professor Paddy Dixon said it had been “a huge task”.

The plan is to sell some of the horses this summer to help offset costs to the charities.

This news story was first published in the current issue of Horse & Hound (26 May, 2011)