Horse Theft and Identification

(Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from the Horse Theft Prevention Handbook.)

Horse theft is a reality. Regardless of breed or discipline, it can happen to you. Anyone who has ever had a horse stolen can relate to the emotional and financial strain involved in the search. What you do in the first 24 hours after the incident is crucial. Delaying action can cost research time, money, and possibly the life of your horse.

Horse theft is almost always driven by the need for cash. Very seldom does it occur as a random act or for political retribution. The crime is easy due to little, if any, horse inspection at the equine abbatoirs (slaughter houses) and a criminal justice system that seems to support nominal punishment for this type of offense.

At present, there is no uniform crime-reporting category for this type of offense. Sheriff's department investigators say the number of horse thefts appears to be constant, with most thefts taking place in areas with large concentrations of horses and in states without horse inspection programs. Investigators report that thefts occur both day and night, and that women increasingly are involved. The breeds reported stolen most are Quarter Horse, Quarter Horse-Thoroughbred mix, Thoroughbred, Appaloosa, and other generic breeds and grades. Ninety percent of stolen horses are bays and sorrels. Eight percent are solid black, white, or gray, with very few white marks. Most stolen horses have no form of identification.

Identification of your horse, tack, and equipment is an important factor in preventing theft and is absolutely crucial to reclaiming your property if it is recovered.

Keep Important Papers Accessible

The following documents should be kept in a safe and accessible place. In the event that your horse is missing or stolen, you will need to demonstrate proof of ownership and provide as much identifying information as possible, such as:

  • Receipt of purchase, bill of sale, and/or a canceled check;
  • Breed registration papers noting brands, marks, and scars;
  • Brand and other identification certificates;
  • Health certificate, Coggins test, and veterinarian receipts; and
  • Four good color photos (front, back, and both sides) of your horse showing brands, marks, and scars. Photos should be updated yearly and show your horse's appearance in both summer and winter.

Immediate Contacts

If you suspect your horse has been stolen, report your theft to the law enforcement agency with primary jurisdiction in your area. Make sure to obtain the case number and a copy of your incident report.

For every crime reported, there will be only one set of statistics entered with the National Crime Information Center. Consider following up with overlapping agencies to supplement the investigation. The following resources exist in many communities, some under slightly different names:

City Police Department--The geographical area of city police is limited. Today, police are burdened with other types of crime and usually do not consider horse theft a high priority. Insist on filing a report, even if your information can only be taken over the phone. Make sure police obtain a full description of your horse including any brands, marks, and scars. Explain terms like mare, gelding, foal, and colt. If the city police have a Crime Stoppers program, ask them to consider broadcasting your theft.

Sheriff's Department--The sheriff has authority over an entire county, with primary emphasis on unincorporated areas. Some cities and towns in a county might contract with the sheriff for police services. Be sure to file an identical report as the one you filed with the city police.

County Sheriff's Livestock Patrol--Livestock patrols recover stray (loose) animals, especially cattle. If your horse has escaped via a broken fence, or has perhaps been taken for a joyride and left elsewhere, the livestock patrol might be able to help.

State Department of Agriculture, Division of Animal Services--Sixteen Western states and three Canadian provinces have livestock inspection programs that include horses. When provided with proper identification, livestock brand inspectors are the most likely individuals to spot a horse reported missing. In addition, many state livestock brand inspectors are members of the International Livestock Identification Association, a network of official livestock inspection, theft investigation, and livestock brand recording agencies.

State Cattlemen's Associations--Every state has a cattlemen's association that is typically well connected to livestock inspectors and investigators.

Breed Associations--If you own a registered horse, let your registry know your horse has been stolen. Breed associations like to be made aware of issues affecting their membership, and you will want them to be informed in the event that an innocent buyer looks for registration information or papers on your missing horse.

State Horse Councils--Many state horse councils are developing programs to assist with equine ID, registration, and rescue/ disaster recovery. You can make a difference by taking a proactive stance with your horse council and state legislators.

Equine Abattoirs on the Federal Inspection List--If you (or a friend) can get to an equine abattoir by 8 a.m. the next morning, be there. If you cannot, call and alert the plant manager or foreman immediately. Fax a complete description of your horse. Stolen horses can be processed inside of 24 hours from the time of theft.

Livestock Auctions and Horse Sales--USDA packers and stockyards administrations have regional offices, one of which will have an auction list for your area. Eighty to 85% of slaughter-bound horses slip through unregulated auctions. If there is more than one daily auction in your area, recruit friends or helpers and cover them all.

Racetracks, Rodeos, and Events--Schedules are available through area equine publications as well as feed and tack stores.

Equine Veterinarians--The records kept by your veterinarian could be invaluable in the event your horse is stolen. These records might include purchase exam information or health certificates required for shows, events, exhibitions, and interstate transport. Vets who do purchase exams also have the potential to uncover stolen horses.

Missing Pet Network (MPN)--This group of volunteers sponsored by the USDA/ APHIS Animal Care Office helps people find missing pets, including horses. Founded in 1996, the MPN accepts no money, makes no endorsements, and uses no advertising on its web site (www.

Equine Farriers--Because they are familiar with regional horse populations, local farriers are also an excellent resource.

All your neighbors--Don't overlook the obvious. Inform your neighbors of the theft and ask them about anything unusual they might have witnessed.

Caveat: Law enforcement agencies are often willing to take an incident report on civil disputes, but they generally do not spend time working on civil investigations. In the case of a civil dispute--a stable owner has impounded a horse for nonpayment of board, for instance--you'll probably need a lawyer. Positive ID and well-documented evidence can help substantiate a claim.

ID Can Make the Difference

Permanent identification, along with proper security measures, is a horse owner's best method of theft deterrence. More than just risk management, equine ID is also responsible horse ownership.

Before selecting your method or methods of equine ID, give some thought to the criteria that best fit your specific situation. All methods have strengths and weaknesses. For the owner, permanent identification is positive proof of ownership. For the horse, permanent ID benefits breed registration, parentage verification, and disease control, and it is useful in transfer of ownership, record keeping, and theft prevention.

Once you have selected a method (or methods) of equine ID, you will need to register your brand, mark, or electronic ID. If you live in a state with a horse inspection program, register your ID with the state livestock department. If your state does not have such a program, you will want to register with your county records clerk. This registration establishes a point of ownership for horses without official breed registration papers.




State Department of Agriculture:
Each state has a Department of Agriculture. If you live in a state with a livestock inspection program, ask for the Chief Brand Investigator.

To obtain auction lists by state:
Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA)
STOP 3601
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, D.C. 20250-3601

To find out if your state is a member and who your state investigators are:
International Livestock Identification Association
4701 Marion Street, #201
Denver, CO 80216

Equine inspection program encompassing Texas and Oklahoma:
Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association
1301 W. Seventh Street
Fort Worth, TX 76102-2660

To obtain lists of state cattlemen's associations:
National Cattlemen's Beef Association
10 E. Nichols Ave. #300
Centennial, CO 80112

Breed Registries and State Horse Councils:
The American Horse Council
1616 H Street 7th Floor
Washington, DC 20006

Other contacts:
The American Association of Equine Practitioners
4075 Iron Works Pike
Lexington, KY 40511

Missing Pet Network
Sponsored by the USDA/APHIS Animal Care Office

American Farriers Association
4059 Iron Works Pike
Lexington, KY 40511

National Organization for Victims Assistance (NOVA)
1730 Park Road N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20010

Equine Law & Business News

About the Author

J. Amelita Facchiano

J. Amelita Facchiano has a passion for equine health, welfare, and identification. She chairs the U.S. Animal Health Association Animal Welfare Committee, and she serves on infectious diseases and ID committees for USAHA, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and National Institute of Animal Agriculture. In addition, Facchiano chairs the Equine Species Working Group ID committee. She also wrote Horse Theft Prevention Handbook, available at

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