You can help keep your horse safe by putting together an identification package. You may be surprised to learn that horse owners all over North America often end up in a position of having to prove to someone — including themselves — that the horse they see in front of them is actually the one they own. Theft, natural disasters, and accidents can leave your horse in a compromised situation, and you in a panic.
Identifying your horse ahead of time is the best way of ensuring that, should something unexpected happen, you and your equine companion will soon be reunited.
3 Reasons to ID Your Horse
Horse owners can find themselves in several situations that make equine identification a must. In any one of these situations, you and your horse stand a better chance of becoming reunited if your horse has some form of identification.
- Theft. People often steal horses for resale to the slaughterhouse or to unknowing individuals who are simply looking for a horse to buy. Thieves take horses from private property, horse shows, boarding stables, etc.
- Natural disasters. Horses are sometimes separated from their owners as the result of natural disasters. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires, and even earthquakes can create situations where horses get out of their enclosures or are deliberately turned loose in an effort to save their lives. Rescue workers may take horses from their stalls or pastures and haul them to safety. If you’re absent at the time of the rescue, you may have no way of knowing where your horse ended up, unless he has identification.
- Accidents. Trail riders in wilderness parks or other remote areas can become separated from their horses. Horses sometimes get loose at shows or at facilities far from home, ending up in situations with strangers who have no idea where the horse belongs. Trailering accidents can also result in a lost horse.
Do-It-Yourself ID Kit
The easiest way to identify your horse is to build an identification packet. Here’s how.
- Document markings. First, document your horse’s markings. If your horse is a purebred, you’ll already have this in the registration packet. (If not, click here for a PDF of a form.) On the drawings, note all your horse’s white markings, chestnuts, and cowlicks. Chestnuts are the horny, irregular growths on the inside of a horse’s legs. You can find cowlicks in the center of hair whorls on his forehead, and often on the neck and throatlatch.
- Take photos. Take photos of your horse from the front, back, and both sides.
- Make copies. Make two copies of both the form and the photos. Put those together with copies of your horse’s Coggins papers and any other significant information.
- Keep them handy. Keep one ID kit in your home and another at the barn or in your truck’s glove box. Not only will you always have ready access to a copy, but if disaster strikes your house or your barn, you’ll have another one offsite.
Other Types of ID
You also have several different options for marking your horse. Some owners use only one of these methods, while some combine several to ensure their horse will be identified in any situation.
- Microchip. Electronic identification microchips are becoming more widely used in the horse world. A veterinarian injects this tiny computer chip into a ligament in the horse’s neck. Each chip contains a unique number that corresponds to the owner’s information, which a microchip registering company maintains electronically.
- Halter tag.Halter tags are sold in tack stores and through equine catalogs. The tag can be engraved with one or two lines, including your phone number and address. Of course, this method is only effective if your horse is wearing the tagged halter.
- Freeze brand. In this method, a cold iron is applied to the horse’s neck, where it destroys the cells in the skin that produce color in the hair. The hair in that area grows back in white, in the shape of the brand. With white or gray horses, the hair doesn’t grow back. These permanent marks are recorded with a freeze-branding registry.
- Hot brand. Brands traditionally used for marking cattle also can be used on horses. A hot iron is applied to the horse’s neck, shoulder, or rump. The heat kills the hair-producing cells, and the horse’s hair doesn’t grow back in the affected area. Hot brands aren’t as popular for identification purposes now that freeze brands and marks are available.
- Lip tattoo. Racehorses have long received lip tattoos for identification. Some horse owners prefer this method of identification over branding or marking, because the tattoo can’t be seen unless the horse’s mouth is examined. Lip tattoos eventually fade and become hard to read.
- DNA testing. Purebred horses can be identified using DNA testing. A strand of the horse’s mane is sent to a testing laboratory, with the participating purebred registry recording the results. A DNA test is considered valid evidence when proving a horse’s ownership in a court of law.
- Hoof brand. Hot-branding a hoof mark, done by a farrier, is painless to the horse. Because the horse’s hoof grows regularly, the mark isn’t permanent and must be reapplied.
A. Maestro is a freelance writer and horse owner based in California.