Industry Members Discuss Future of Equine ID

Equine identification was a lively topic of discussion during the National Institute of Animal Agriculture’s (NIAA) Identification and Information Expo held in Arlington Heights, Ill., the last week of July. The conference featured a first-of-its-kind Equine ID Symposium to address the industry’s need for a universal ID system in light of emerging diseases, emergency preparedness, theft prevention, and maintaining access to international market opportunities.

"The Equine ID Symposium planning committee should be very excited about the turnout, presentations, and participation of everyone who attended," said Glenn N. Slack, President and CEO of NIAA. The planning committee, chaired by Tim Cordes, DVM, of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Veterinary Services, was created during the last decade. Cordes developed plans for this symposium between the 1994 and 1998 NIAA Food Animal ID seminars.

Steven Halstead, DVM, and Ernie Zirkel, DVM, who developed goals and objectives for the Equine ID Symposium, asked participants to consider a potential national identification system that would provide unique, permanent, computer-compatible alphanumeric identification for each horse. Participants were not to endorse a specific modality (form of identification); instead, they focused on:

  • Positive aspects of such a system;
  • Issues to resolve;
  • How to proceed with next steps.

Objectives were to advance equine ID by demonstrating benefits to international trade, the crucial value of ID in tracking existing and emerging diseases, and identification’s role in emergency preparedness, theft prevention, and general welfare.

Science and technology topics included electronic ID, iris and retinal biometrics, smart card technology, online health certificates, and European technology and world trade.

"New technology has been offered up and the age of computers has added a new dimension to animal identification," said Ralph C. Knowles, DVM, Veterinary Consultant, in his overview of disease history and electronic ID.

Hamish Anderson of Weatherbys (a group which administrates racing under contract to the British Horseracing Board and has published the General Studbook in Great Britain for over 200 years), explained the integrity of an electronic ID system that includes DNA, markings, and a life numbering system. This system is used in Great Britain and Ireland for all Thoroughbreds registered in the General Stud Book, and is incorporated on an equine passport that has been agreed on by all Thoroughbred stud books worldwide.

Anderson said that the European Union decided to legislate an international life number; the first three digits will be the International Standard Organization (ISO) code of the country of birth, the next three the organization that recorded the birth, and the last nine will be the microchip number. Between 1999 and 2001, 48,162 horses had microchips implanted in the EU. Anderson also explained the registration and passport process that requires medical records, inspection and endorsement of foreign travel by racing authorities, and use of the Internet to communicate export certificates.

Anderson shared that when an EU shipping company prepares to transport a horse to another country, the receiving country can download via Internet necessary details on the horse including ID markings and previous travel.

Examples of Internet applications and digital images in the United States specific to official certificates of veterinary inspection and equine infectious anemia testing with diagnostic lab connectivity were presented by Kevin Maher, President of GlobalVetLink, LC. Maher developed the company to answer growing food safety concerns for real-time communications and data for animal regulatory management.

Maher cited the U.S. Animal Health Association’s (USAHA) November 2001 resolution 12 "that APHIS-Veterinary Services, in cooperation with the states, utilize or develop an electronic certificate of veterinary inspection that uses a USDA web-based computer database to document intrastate, interstate, and international movement of livestock and poultry" as an important commitment in that process.

To enhance existing technology comes iris, retinal imaging, and smart card technology already in use in human applications for more than a decade. While they’re still in their infancy and few statistics are yet available, these applications could become value-added components for the horse industry either alone or coupled with global information systems, global positioning satellites (GPS), and a national equine ID system.

Practical applications encompassed disease control, emergency preparedness, and theft prevention. Maxwell Lea, Jr., DVM, Louisiana State Veterinarian and USAHA President, said Louisiana’s program to survey, monitor, and control equine infectious anemia (EIA) has done just that. The program requires permanent ID with a brand, tattoo, or electronic implant at the time blood is drawn for Coggins testing. Widely in use and more readily accepted by the Louisiana horse industry is electronic ID--some 185,000 horses have been microchipped since the program’s 1994 inception.

Lea said, "ID of horses involved in Louisiana’s EIA program provides definitive ID of horses tested, reduces abuses to the program, reduces laboratory error, provides definitive ID of test-positive horses for retesting, provides a test history for individual horses no matter the owner, and law enforcement agencies have used ID to solve theft cases."]

Venaye P. Reece, DVM, Clemson University Livestock-Poultry Health Division, covered equine ID in disaster and emergency management, offering very practical reasons for ID. She cited disaster-planning issues involving evacuation, rescue, sheltering, medical care, movement control, restriction, disposition, and return to owner.

Having worked in the European Union during the foot and mouth disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) 2001 outbreaks, Reece showed the potential value of an ID system to controlling disease outbreaks in the United States. She also shared her knowledge of handling horses in natural disasters, and removing horses which die in these disasters—both of which are helped significantly by methods of equine identification.

Reece said, "In major emergencies, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. Identification is part of the solution--it saves time, money, lives, and offers peace of mind."

Industry Organizations Share ID Policies

Position statements by American Horse Council (AHC), American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), USA Equestrian, Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (TRPB), and other breed association representatives were a very important part of the symposium.

Amy Mann of the AHC said there has been a lack of direct input from the industry at this time and that "there is no mandate for a national ID system; however, if we find benefits from this concept, then let’s pursue them."

Tom Lenz, DVM, who represented the AAEP, summed up the veterinarians’ perspective and involvement on behalf of the AAEP. He stated the AAEP believes the selection of any individual device or system should be an industry decision including breed registries, governmental and regulatory agencies, and the equine practitioner as they will all be heavily involved in the education process for horse owners.

Lenz said, "The AAEP supports the concept of a national equine identification system. However, in light of the many new innovations on the horizon and flaws within many of today’s identification technologies, we cannot endorse a specific modality at this time." He concluded by asking participants to bear in mind the health and welfare of the horse, its owner, and the entire equine industry.

Ward Stutz of the American Quarter Horse Association offered the AQHA’s position by highlighting the first sentence of the registry’s mission statement, which is to record and preserve the pedigrees of the American Quarter Horse while maintaining the integrity of the breed. He said this indicates AQHA’s commitment to American Quarter Horse owners that the pedigrees of their horses are accurate. Identification is paramount to ensure this accuracy.

He said that AQHA understands the importance of and supports methods of positively identifying horses for the purposes of transportation, controlling contagious diseases, preventing theft, issuing health certificates, handling brand inspections, and ensuring fair competition. In addition, Stutz said AQHA is committed to ensuring the health and welfare of the horse, and that positive identification plays a key role in meeting that goal.

He concluded by saying that during the 2002 AQHA convention, the Stud Book and Registration (SB&R) Committee addressed USAHA’s Equine Infectious Anemia Subcommittee’s recommendations dated Jan. 9–10, 2001. The recommendation is for USDA APHIS VS to develop a cooperative program and write a proposed rule to include permanent identification of equids for EIA testing.

The committee believed the membership would not support the recommendation, as it would be too financially burdensome, and recommended opposition of the requirement of permanent identification for EIA testing. AQHA members utilize many different methods of identification from hot branding to microchipping; therefore, AQHA is not in the position at this time to endorse only one form of identification.

USA Equestrian’s Executive Director, Cheryll Frank, said that originally, the American Horse Shows Association (the organization’s former name), identified horses solely for the purpose of recognition through year-end awards. Yet consumer demand is also driving the development of USA Equestrian’s Sports Database from an annual, awards-based program to a permanent archive of equestrian sport for various reasons.

Frank announced in January of 2002 the adoption of Article 811, making it mandatory for every horse competing in USA Equestrian-recognized competitions to have an identification number. Article 811 goes into effect Dec. 1, 2002, but already more than 5,000 horses have been added to the database.

USA Equestrian does not currently mandate permanent identification modalities for recorded horses; however, USA Equestrian does ask owners to provide complete identification of each animal, including natural characteristics and/or permanent artificial modalities.

Is a National System Necessary?

An overall summary compiled by program analyst Ken Waters of the APHIS Policy and Program Development department, and his team of facilitators, indicates that while there are several positive aspects of a potential national equine ID system such as traceability of horses, enhancement of trade, integrity of information, and accurate census taking, there are several issues to resolve. First and foremost of the issues to resolve is determining if there is a need for such a system. If there was agreement on the need, the issues to resolve would include standardization, privacy, cost, and incentives.

Participants agreed that the way to move forward is for interested parties to talk more about the issue and to study the possibility of implementing such a system and to do so in a deliberate but timely way.

The Next Steps

  • The Equine ID planning committee for the Expo held a follow-up conference call to consider the next steps;
  • NIAA will post the raw data and information collected during the break-out sessions on their web site for participants to access at ;
  • NIAA will convene study groups (including representatives of industry organizations, the veterinary profession, and government and other interested groups) to determine a direction for a national equine identification system;
  • NIAA will report at the USAHA convention, which is scheduled for the week of Oct. 20-23, 2002, in St. Louis, Mo., and the December 4-8, 2002, AAEP meeting in Orlando, Fla. (and other meetings as needed), and will be responsible for championing the study group mentioned above. Note: No concrete recommendations/action steps will be presented at the USAHA meeting;
  • Concrete recommendations/action steps will be given at the next national NIAA meeting in April 2003.

A complete list of positive aspects of a potential ID system, issues that would need to be resolved, and the Equine ID Symposium science and technology presentations can be found online at the NIAA Virtual Proceedings room at

The Equine ID Symposium hosted by NIAA was sponsored by Allflex USA, AAEP, AQHA, Bayer, USDA/APHIS/VS, and USDA/FSIS.

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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