Equine Identification: Are you Prepared for an Emergency?

If all of the horses in your area had to be evacuated due to a natural disaster, and were put into one huge corral, would you be able to pick out your horse?

“Of course!” you might say, because like most horse owners you are extremely familiar with your animal’s markings, build, and temperament, and would know the horse anywhere. But the reality is that a situation like this can have additional problems such as the owner’s inability to get to the site where rescued horses are housed, general stress and confusion, and the unfortunate dishonesty of some people claiming horses that aren’t their own. A visible brand, tattoo, implanted electronic identification chip, or simply a detailed file with your horses’ natural physical marks could offer tremendous help in a situation such as this one.

Amelita Facchiano is the author of the Horse Theft Prevention Handbook and a scheduled speaker at the first-ever National Equine Identification Symposium, which will be held in Chicago, Ill., July 28-Aug. 1. “You and I might think we could pick our horse out in a crowd, but while you know the star, stripe and snip turns to the left, the horse might be singed by fire (for example) just enough for you to stand there and doubt,” she says. “The same is true in any sort of disaster--the more time past the first 24 hours since you have seen your horse, and without positive means of identification, the harder it is to recognize a horse because they begin shedding a lot of water with the fear factor and during transport.”

Equine identification techniques can be effective theft deterrents, ways to track infectious disease exposure, or simple clues of ownership if a fence is down and the horses go for a gallop across the next county. Everyone has seen posters circulated with the pleas of owners whose horses have been lost or stolen. In the unfortunate event that you or your horse were ever separated, wouldn’t you want to have permanent identification information that humane organizations, people at show grounds, or even slaughterhouse personnel can use?

“The reality is that horse theft is a situation that can happen to anyone, regardless of breed or of discipline,” said Facchiano. “Horses are an international commodity, and there are no breeds or disciplines that exclude you from the possibility (of theft or separation from your horse). Therefore, identification is your absolute best bet as a deterrent. And it’s even more crucial as proof in a court of law that the animals are, in fact, yours.”

At the upcoming symposium, equine identification experts (from those familiar with different means of identification to representatives from the breed registries that are employing these techniques) will present a comprehensive list of identification techniques now being used in the industry. Speakers will discuss the importance of equine identification to international trade, its many applications, how crucial it is for controlling diseases, its role in preparation for emerging diseases, and its importance to horse owners on a cost-benefit analysis basis. Additionally, there will be breakout sessions in which attendees and speakers can get together and exchange ideas on what has worked, might work, and what will be the future of giving every horse a “fingerprint.”

 “Having one or several methods of identifying your horses serves two very important venues in horse ownership--animal health, especially when we’re talking about regulatory management, and surveillance,” Facchiano said. “The second reason would be as an aid to the horse and the owner in any sort of emergency situation such as a natural disaster or incidence of missing or loose horses.”

The following methods of identification will be discussed in depth at the conference:

  • Electronic identification technology, which uses transponders made of biocompatible glass that are implanted in the horse’s left nuchal ligament (in the neck) by a veterinarian.
  • Smart card technology, which links any desired information to an animal’s unique identification and stores this data on a chip within a credit card-like device. The cards can be used as authorization/ID cards that can be used in a security situation.
  • Retinal and iris biometrics, in which an individual animal’s retinal patterns and iris are recorded digitally, as they are unique and unchanging and can identify the animal for life.

Facchiano will cover horse theft statistics and how they play into one’s decision in selecting methods of identification for horse theft prevention. Also discussed will be the Louisiana Equine Infectious Anemia Control Program, emergency preparedness, and common European equine identification practices.

Officials from the following organizations will be presenting and discussing the identification endeavors that they’ve used in the past, their current methods, and what they’re considering: American Horse Council, American Association of Equine Practitioners, USA Equestrian, American Quarter Horse Association, The Jockey Club, United States Trotting Association, Arabian Horse Registry of America, the Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse & Burro Program, Dutch Warmblood Studbook in North America, American Paint Horse Association, and the American Saddlebred Horse Association.

Individuals wanting to learn more about the conference or register should visit www.animalagriculture.org/id.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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