A novel approach is being trialled in a bid to safeguard the future of the Dartmoor Hill Pony – contraception.
The Dartmoor Hill Pony Association is coordinating a project to allow mares to continue to run on the moors with stallions, living naturally in herds but without reproducing, by administering an equine version of the contraceptive pill.
The first trial of ‘ponies on the pill’ has proven a big success, with a herd of 20 mares running with a stallion without producing foals.
“Quite simply, there are too many foals being born on Dartmoor. Hundreds are destroyed every year,” says the DHPA.
The ponies are under threat, with recession, the cost of compulsory microchipping and passporting, and EU transport regulations leading to sharp fall in demand, according to The DHPA.
At the annual autumn sale in Chagford, fewer than a third of the 158 ponies found a buyer; the first 30 through the sale ring failed to raise a single bid, despite prices starting at 10 guineas (£10.50).
Unless indiscriminate breeding is controlled, these ponies “will be assigned to history and the ecology of this unique landscape will deteriorate”.
“They’ve had a vital role in controlling the spread of bracken and gorse, creating an environment in which other species of wildlife thrive, and providing a valuable source of transport, horse power and recreation,” says the DHPA.