AAEP 1999: Infectious Diseases Subcommittee on Equine Identification

Presented by Committee Chairman: Timothy R. Cordes, DVM, Dec. 4, 1999

According to Ralph C. Knowles, DVM, Veterinary Consultant, early equine identification in the United States consisted of a word or graphic sketch description of an animal, followed by the hot brand, which was introduced by Spanish settlers. The hot iron brand, or the Preston Brand, was replaced by the lip tattoo in the late 1800s. Though first used by the US Army, tattoos were subsequently used in the identification of horses on the track.

Freeze marking, trycoglyph mapping, chestnut (night eye) mapping, and photographs have been used since the 1950's to identify horses and other equids.

Blood typing, DNA, Radio Frequency ID (RFID), integrated circuitry (IC) cards, iris, retina, and other biometric determinations have been used in the last 15 years. "Further research and development in this field will ascertain practicality for use in horses and other equids," wrote Knowles in his historical introduction to Equine ID.

Equine ID And Equine Welfare
The recurrence of natural disasters show that accurate, thorough identification methods are needed to reunite horse and owner. Horses can become disoriented and stray long distances when barriers in fields come down and familiar landmarks are torn away by extreme weather conditions. "Lessons from Hurricane Andrew clearly demonstrate that lack of permanent identification lends itself to theft and confusion over ownership," said Venaye P. P. Reece, DVM, of Clemson University.

The current Coggins test (an indication of a negative blood test for Equine Infectious Anemia) is many times the only written identification or description of a horse as it travels. This presents serious issues in the identification and estimated exposure of horses during a serious infectious disease outbreak. In addition, being able to research and follow up on horses in abuse or neglect situations is highly dependent on accurate identification methods.

According to Reece, a combined effort is required to educate the public about the various methods of identification available, and an increase in requirements and recommendations to have each horse identified.

Electronic identification (EID) of equids was explored and presented by Ralph C. Knowles, DVM, and Doug McInnis, DVM. Radio Frequency Implantable Devices (RFID) were developed in the early 1970's, and utilized implantable transponders that were activated when interrogated by radio frequency readers. The microchip leads a passive role, giving it durability throughout the life of the equid.

Between 1985 and 1990, field trials revealed that transponders, the size of a grain of rice, were easy to implant with a needle and were safe to horses' tissues. Implanted in the left side of the neck in the nuchal ligament, the microchip is unable to migrate due to an antimigration cap on the transponder.

According to Knowles and McInnis, “The state of Louisiana's EIA Conrol Program is a good example of the application of implantable RFID. Electronic ID as a form of permanent identification was found to be very practical and responsible for the reduction in population of EIA. To date, approximately 100,000 equids have been successfully implanted in Louisiana,”

Natural markings, age, sex, breed, and hair coat color, along with any other man-made brands, marks, or scars, can be used along with RFID to help identify equids successfully. Another advantage to RFID is its computer compatibility in an age of technological growth.

IC Cards
According to Steven L. Halstead, DVM, “modern livestock management requires something more capable,” than the management of a herd's identification comparisons simply by memory or a paper-based system.

Integrated circuitry (IC) cards, or "smart cards" link any desired information to the animals' unique identification and store this data on the IC chip built into the credit card-size device. The card can only be accessed by persons using a second identification card, and is useful both locally, or may be connected via Internet to regulatory agencies, breed associations, or other affiliates.

The IC Cards, complete with photos or other information printed on one or both surfaces, can be used as authorization or ID cards within secure or regulated areas, such as race tracks and medical care facilities. "IC card technology fits seamlessly into systems in use or being developed for paperless regulatory testing and health certification, providing the benefits of simplicity, accuracy, timeliness, and affordability," writes Halstead.

Biometrics Methods of ID
Michael Ball, DVM, Cornell University, examined the technology in methods of identification involving the "measurement" of biologic features for differentiation between multiple individuals. Retinal scans, iris scans, and facial characteristics are a few examples of biometrics methods currently used in human technology.

Due to the difficulty in obtaining an image of the retina in a horse, retinal scans are probably not a reality. However the structure of the iris can be captured using common digital technology and algorithmic processing computer programs. "The probability of two human irises producing the exact same iris code is 1 in 10 to the 76th power," wrote Ball.

The Japanese Racing Association has experimented wish the human-ready technology directly on horses, according to Ball, but the results are of top secret nature.

Ball will be attempting a study using iris scans in the summer of 2000, and believes the technology will easily transpose to the horse, though various equipment modifications might be necessary.

In terms of facial recognition, the FBI and CIA have used this technology successfully to analyze the specific geometry of the human face. Modifications of the software might have to be made to accommodate the study, and Ball plans to explore this technology as well.

ID and Theft Prevention in Texas
Amelita F. Donald, who compiled and edited the information handouts presented in this meeting, presented information regarding the Texas horse ID program for theft prevention.

The Texas legislature encouraged horse owners to ID horses via brands, freeze marks, and EID, beginning in 1997, and made arrangements for the Texas Agricultural Extension Service (TAEX) to provide education and law enforcement in these areas.

Educational programs have been held in 47% of the 254 counties, and on-site branding has been done at each program.

A horse identification program (HIP) was developed to work in conjunction with brand and field inspectors, to cover auction markets and abattoirs, where "72K plus head have been inspected prior to being processed for export for human consumption," said Donald.

An active Missing Horse web site has been maintained by the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) and the TAEX, and over 200 head of horses reported stolen in 1998 were recovered or accounted for, and over 90 head to date in 1999.

Planning for 2000 is underway to develop a day-long seminar for law enforcement officers, set to pilot on the Texas A&M Campus, and then to be available in other locations across the state.

According to Donald, "these programs have increased awareness of horse theft prevention by encouraging responsible horse owners to identify their horses, and stepped up inspection at the equine abattoirs."

Donald's book, The Handbook of Horse Theft Prevention, can be found on Exclusively Equine's web site, www.exclusivelyequine.com. All royalties go to the AAEP Foundation.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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