Equine Microchips And Me

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The lead article in the February 2013 issue of the Horse Journal discusses an issue that I'm dealing with right now. The page 1 article "Who Is That Horse?" describes several methods of equine identification, some old and some modern, that readers can use to assure they can prove their horse is theirs.

The identification method I'm dealing with right now is microchipping, a method I've never used before. In fact, I've never used any of the methods author Dr. Deb Eldridge describes in this article, mostly because I've never felt the need to have more than a bill of sale, or registration papers, or photos. Perhaps I'm naive or just lucky that in 40-plus years of horse ownership, neither theft nor miss identification has ever been a problem.

But one of my horses, Amani, is scheduled to start competing in events sanctioned by the Federation Equestre Internationale this year, and, in their usual style, FEI officials announced without warning in mid-November that, from Jan. 1, 2013, on, all horses newly registered with them would be required to have a microchip implanted in them to prove their identity.

I don't know why, but they aren't making the same requirement for horses registered prior to Jan. 1, 2013, so my other FEI-level horse, Alba, doesn't have to be microchipped. I can't explain this grandfathering rule - if they're that concerned about identification, doesn't that mean every horse -but I won't complain about an FEI non-requirement that saves me money. That doesn't happen very often.

Still, many veterinarians, along with our national federation, the U.S. Equestrian Federation, have been taken by surprise and are scrambling to catch up to the rule's requirements. As Deb noted in her article, the FEI requires a specific type of microchip (compatible with ISO 11785 or 11785), since I knew nothing about microchips, I don't know what that means. I suspected, though, that it's a requirement for whatever device FEI officials are going to have to read the microchip. It is not a microchip that's easy to find and buy, though.

I'm suspecting that I was one of the first USEF members to inquire about this requirement. In early January, I sent an email to Shealagh Costello, who's the USEF's director of national programs for eventing and is always an extremely helpful guide to questions like these. When I asked her where I could get the right microchip, she said she didn't know but would find out.

Shealagh's initial response was that I should be able to get them from The Jockey Club, the Thoroughbred registry. But when I went to their website, I found nothing about microchips. So I emailed Shealagh again, and, two weeks later, she still hasn't been able to find an answer for me. She suggested that, perhaps, the USEF should have this information on its website, but that doing so might give the appearance that it was endorsing a particular product or two. I can see the potential for conflict there, but if there is only one company providing this product?

So, as I sat down to write this blog, I decided to do a Google search for equine microchips ISO 11784/11785. I was surprised to find, near the top of the results, a company called Microchip ID, with an equine division. They sell a product called EquineChip, which they claim is FEI compliant, for $38.75. So I emailed them to confirm that this chip is, indeed, ISO 11784 or 11785.

In less than 24 hours, I was pleasantly surprised to get a response from John Wade, DVM, at Microchip ID. He said, "Technically, the ISO 11784 identifies the specifications for the microchip and the ISO 11785 does so for the scanners that are designed to read the ISO 11784 chips. The two are often referred to together. The FEI-compliant chip is the ISO 11784, a 15-digit chip that operates at 134.2 kHz."

The next step for me will be to make sure that my veterinarian can implant this particular chip in Amani's neck. If so, I'll purchase an EquineChip so that I can continue on the pain-staking process of applying to the FEI for a passport for her, which she needs to compete in FEI-sanctioned events. (You can't apply for the passport, which requires the veterinarian to painstakingly draw all the horse's marking, until you have the microchip inserted.)

Please understand that I'm not at all criticizing Shealagh. She's a friend and is always fabulously helpful with any questions I have about rules or regulations. But my point is that, as is the FEI's custom, they've clearly made a rule that and our national federation?s staff was not prepared to follow at the time of its implementation. Fortunately for us American competitors, at least one company does offer the magic microchips.

(By the way, in my advanced age, I'm becoming increasingly fond of Google. It never ceases to amaze me what you can find there.)

And I should add that Microchip ID isn't at all the only company that offers equine microchips. it's just the only one I found whose product suits the FEI.