Animal welfare groups are trying to safeguard the future of Britain’s most iconic wild pony - but putting them on the PILL.
Experts say hundreds of the free-roaming animals on Dartmoor in Devon are culled each year because of the dwindling market for them.
But instead of sending more and more healthy ponies to the slaughterhouse they’ve started to give mares birth control to limit reproduction.
During a recent trial the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association (DHPA) gave contraceptive injections to a herd of 20 ponies – and not a single foal was born.
The charity is hoping to give jabs to a further 100 animals over the coming year and says the project could also be used to manage wild populations in Exmoor and the New Forest.
The scheme – - dubbed Ponies on the Pill – comes amid a steep fall in the market for ponies, despite their temperaments and intelligence making ideal as children’s pets.
Experts say less people are taking them on because of the recession and the rising cost of compulsory micro-chipping and passports.
At last year’s annual Autumn Dartmoor Pony sale fewer than a third of the 158 animals found a buyer and many failed to raise a single bid – despite prices starting as low as #10.50.
The DHPA said the future of Ponies on the Pill depended on the Forestry Commission leasing the group more land so it can extend and carefully monitor the scheme.
A spokesman said: “Dartmoor ponies are vital for maintaining Dartmoor’s landscape and provide pleasure for visitors.
“But there is no market for them and with indiscriminate breeding, too many foals are born. To save them from suffering, we have to shoot hundreds each autumn, which is a tragedy.
“The solution is simple: contraceptives for the mares, Ponies on the Pill, but we urgently need land to achieve this.”