Study Finds Equine Hot Brands Difficult to Decipher

Study Finds Equine Hot Brands Difficult to Decipher

Austrian researchers recently carried out a study evaluating how reliably can equine brand marks be read later in horses' lives, the results of which indicate the identification marks can be difficult to decipher.


Despite increasing scientific evidence that branding foals causes the animals stress, many horse breeders still rely on this practice for herd identification. Although the debate about whether or not branding horses is humane has raged for some time, few have posed the question: How reliably can brand marks be read later in life?

Jörg Aurich, Dr.Med.Vet., PhD, and Christine Aurich, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ECAR of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Austria, recently addressed this issue in a study.

Brands on horses generally combine a symbol to indicate the particular breed with a two-digit number to identify the individual animal. To assess the readability of the markings, the researchers asked three experienced people to record the brands of about 250 horses participating in an equestrian tournament in Germany.

All three testers were able to recognize the breed symbols on about 90% of the animals and for about 84% of the animals the symbol was recorded correctly by all three people. However, the situation for the two-digit numbers yielded different results. While each of the three readers read the numbers correctly on about half of the horses, the correct number was recorded by all three of them for less than 40% of the animals.

To assess the legibility of brand marking under "ideal" conditions, the researchers examined the brands on 28 horses that had been euthanized for unrelated reasons. The brand marks could be clearly identified on only nine of the animals, while for six horses neither the brand symbol nor the two-digit number could be deciphered even after the site of branding (generally the left thigh but in two cases the left side of the neck) had been shaved.

At the same time, the researchers examined the sites where the horses had been branded for evidence of tissue damage. Nearly all of the horses had histological changes at the branding sites, consistent with having experienced a third-degree thermal injury.

Jörg Aurich summed up the results: "Branding is clearly associated with local tissue damage and the markings are often insufficiently clear to be decoded, even by experienced observers or after the horse has died. There really isn't any reason to continue to mark horses in this outdated way."

The study, "Readability of branding symbols in horses and histomorphological alterations at the branding site," appeared in August in The Veterinary Journal. The abstract is available online.

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