POLICE have launched an investigation after a horse was found dead with shot gun wounds in The New Forest.

The news of the investigation comes after the four year old filly was found dead near the junction of Tethering Drove and Hale Lane in Hale just after 5:30pm on December 12.

Police believe that the incident took place in the early hours of that morning.

A spokesperson from Hampshire police said: "The four-year-old filly had wounds likely to have been caused by shotgun pellets.

"We are investigating the circumstances of the animal's death. "

Councillor Edward Heron who is the deputy chairman of the New Forest National Park Authority and who represents the Downlands and Forest ward said: "An incident like this one is incredibly rare and I have never heard of anything like this happening in this area.

"It's quite worrying but we will have to await the outcome of the police investigation."

Councillor Neville Penman who is also local authority appointee for the New Forest National Park said: "I can't believe this, I'm in total shock."

He added: "In the mean time people should keep an eye out until we know the conclusion of the investigation.

"I hope they catch the person that did this."

Tony Hockley, from the New Forest Commoners also expressed his "shock" by tweeting about the incident on social media:

He said: "Poaching can be a problem in open access areas but this is an unusual incident to happen here.

"I would advise people that no additional action needs to be taken.

"This is a one off incident, horses and ponies are safe here and that's why an incident like this even more shocking.

"I feel for the owners.

"This is not what you want to happen and I really want the police to catch the poacher."

The New Forest Verderers who regulate commoning in the area refused to make an official statement but a spokesperson said: "It is a very worrying incident."

A National Trust spokesperson said: “We are saddened to confirm that, on Wednesday 12 December, a New Forest pony was reported dead by the New Forest Verderers.

As this is now a police matter we are unable to comment further. We would urge anyone with information to contact Hampshire Police."

A spokesperson from Hampshire Police said: "Anyone with information about this incident should call 101 quoting 44180462950."