Permanent Identification

Hurricane Katrina taught us many lessons. Serving as the Horse Unit Coordinator for the Louisiana Department of Agriculture's State Veterinarian's Office after Katrina, I received a much-needed education in permanent identification and the benefits for both horses and their owners. A total of 364 horses were rescued and transported to the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, La., after the storm. We averaged 157 horses on the grounds per day for the 56 days we were at the facility. On any given day, I could have 20 bay Quarter Horse-type mares, with a star, a sock, or no markings at all. With such similar appearances, how could we tell them apart and ensure they would be returned to their rightful owners?

The answer came in the form of permanent identification. Approximately 85-90% of the horses rescued had some form of identification. The majority of the horses had microchips implanted in their necks. The State of Louisiana requires that all horses have permanent forms of identification, and this information is recorded on the horse's yearly Coggins papers (proof of a negative test for equine infectious anemia). Although the State of Louisiana hadn't kept a current database of the information contained on the Coggins papers for the past few years, owners who had copies of their Coggins or their microchip number written down could positively identify and claim their horses. Each microchip has a unique identification number assigned to that horse, and only the legal owner of the horse would have that information. There were a handful of horses with lip tattoos (most were Thoroughbreds registered through The Jockey Club), and a few had brands from different registries.

The lip tattoos, although helpful in identifying owners, can fade over time or become illegible. Homemade hip brands were only useful if the owner had his or her Coggins papers with the brand recorded, and only if the veterinarian filling out the Coggins papers was able to accurately hand draw the brand.

Although the usefulness of permanent identification, particularly microchips, became apparent during a hurricane rescue, the value of positively identifying a horse and its legal owner can be used in many situations. Events such as other natural disasters, theft, and even performance or racing competitions can raise the question of which horse is which, and who owns him. The ability for a veterinarian or other trained professional to scan a horse, retrieving its unique number, becomes invaluable.

The key to utilizing this new technology lies in a recording agency and education of the horse owner. Many horse owners are not aware that when a horse is scanned for a microchip, only the chip number is displayed in the scanner. It does not contain the owner's name and information. Currently, there are two microchips used extensively in horses--the Avid chip and the Destron chip. Both manufacturers provide registration services for owners and searchable databases to retrieve horse and owner information using the number implanted in the chip.

John Wade, DVM, of Avid, recently announced the company's new web site,, where owners can register their horses online, regardless if the horse has an Avid or Destron chip. also provides a 24-hour call center for recoveries and tracing information. provides similar services on its web site, and the state of Louisiana is also working to correct its database information as a result of the need revealed during the 2005 hurricanes.

Some national breed registries are anticipating using microchip numbers to register horses attending shows. Software for that task is being developed now. In the near future, you may simply walk your horse up to the scanner and immediately "check your horse in," rather than filling out long show entry forms and providing proof of breed registration. 

As technology advances and more horse owners become aware of the advantages of permanent identification for their horses and the need for registering this information, events such as Katrina will produce more happy returns of horses separated from their owners, in a much shorter time. Most horses are not only large financial investments, but also very much a part of our families. After all, who wouldn't want a displaced family member home as soon as possible?

About the Author

Bonnie Clark

Bonnie [Clark] Marquette is the past president of the Louisiana Equine Council as well as the former publisher of the Horseman’s Guide of the South Central Region. She was the horse unit coordinator for Hurricane Katrina in Gonzales, LA at Lamar Dixon, and she also ran the horse rescue barn during Hurricane Ike, in Galveston, TX. Currently, Bonnie is a member of LSART (Louisiana State Animal Response Team).

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More