An ID Kit for Your Horse

You can help keep your horse safe by putting together an identification package.
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You can help keep your horse safe by putting together an identification package.
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Your insurance company has probably suggested ways to identify your household belongings-engrave your driver's license number on them, videotape or photograph them, keep a detailed list in a safety deposit box. Have you ever considered that you can protect your horse in a similar fashion?

Sure, you and your horse are so close that you could probably pick her out of a crowd of 100 others, even though she's a solid chestnut. But if you had to prove to someone else that she was your horse, you might have a hard time doing so.

Identify Your Horse

  • Photocopy the form on page 46, making one copy for each horse that you own.
  • Fill in the form for each horse, making sure to note all white markings, nite-eyes (chestnuts) and cowlicks.
  • Photocopy the completed form.
  • Take photos of your horse from the front, back and each side. Get two prints of each.
  • Make two packets in a plastic sheet protector that includes a copy of the completed form, the set of photos, a copy of your horse's Coggins papers and any other significant information.
  • Keep one packet in your home and one at the barn or in the glove box of your truck.

You may be surprised to learn that horse owners all over North America often end up in a position of having to prove to someone-including themselves-that the horse they see in front of them is actually the one they own. Things like theft, natural disasters and accidents can leave your horse in a compromised situation, and you in a panic.

Identifying your horse ahead of time is the best way of ensuring that, should something unexpected happen, you and your equine companion will soon be reunited.

Reasons to ID
Horse owners can find themselves in several situations that make equine identification a must. Any one of these scenarios is reason enough to identify your horse.

Theft. Although we no longer hang horse thieves from the highest tree, the days of horse thieving are not over. People often steal horses for resale to the slaughterhouse or to unknowing individuals who are simply looking for a horse to buy. Thieves take horses from private property, horse shows, boarding stables and a variety of other places. (See the June 2004 issue of Perfect Horse.)

Natural disasters. Horses are sometimes separated from their owners as the result of natural disasters. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires and even earthquakes can create situations where horses get out of their enclosures or are deliberately turned loose in an effort to save their lives. Rescue workers may take horses from their stalls or pastures and haul them to safety. If you are absent at the time of the rescue, you may have no way of knowing where your horse ended up.

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Accidents. Trail riders in wilderness parks or other remote areas can become separated from their horses, and be at a loss as to how to get them back. Horses sometimes get loose at shows or at facilities far from home, ending up in situations with strangers who have no idea where the horse belongs. Trailering accidents can also result in a lost horse.

In any one of these situations, you and your horse stand a better chance of becoming reunited if your horse has some form of identification.

Do-It-Yourself ID Kit
The easiest way to identify your horse is to build an identification packet that you can have available if necessary. Even if your horse isn't a purebred and has no registration papers, you can put together something that will work just as well.

First make a written documentation of your horse's markings. If your horse is a purebred, you will already have this in the registration packet. If not, use the one on page 46 (based on the Quarter Horse registration application and used with kind permission of the American Quarter Horse Association). On the drawings, note all your horse's white markings, chestnuts, (nite-eyes) and cowlicks. It's also a good idea to write them out on a separate piece of paper. Nite-eyes and cowlicks are even more important if you have a solid horse with little or no white markings.

The nite-eyes, or chestnuts, are the horny, irregular growths on the inside of a horse's legs. You can find them just above the knees on the forelegs and near the rear of the hock on the back legs. Nite-eyes don't change during a horse's lifetime, and no two horses have the same nite-eyes, making them a good way to identify a horse.

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You can find cowlicks in the center of hair whorls on your horse's forehead and often on the neck and throatlatch. Because cowlicks cannot be brushed or clipped away, they also are useful in identifying a horse.

Next take photos of your horse from the front, back and both sides. Again, if you've gone through a breed registration process, you probably already have such photos.

Make two copies of both the form and the photos. Put those together with copies of your horse's Coggins papers and any other significant information. Keep one set in your home and another at the barn or in your truck's glove box. Not only will you always have ready access to a copy, but if disaster strikes your house or your barn, you'll have another ID set off site.

Other Types of ID
You also have several different options for marking your horse. Some owners use only one of these methods, while some combine several to ensure their horse will be identified in any situation.

Microchip. Electronic identification microchips have been used by dog and cat owners for some time now, and are becoming more widely used in the horse world. A veterinarian injects this tiny computer chip into a ligament in the horse's neck. Each chip contains a unique number that corresponds to the owner's information, which a microchip registering company maintains electronically. The chip is not visible and does not cause the horse any physical discomfort, except perhaps at the time it is injected. The chip cannot be easily removed. However, because microchips are invisible, they won't help someone recognize your horse unless they have a way to read the microchip.

ID for Emergencies

Some natural disasters, such as earthquakes and fires, come out of the blue with absolutely no warning. But some weather events, like hurricanes and tornadoes, usually arrive with some notice. If you know of an impending situation that might result in your horse being separated from you, consider one or more of the following forms of emergency identification:

Halter ID. Fit your horse with a leather or break-away halter and attach an engraved halter identification tag. The tag should at least have your phone number on it, more if it will fit. If you don't have a halter identification tag, use a luggage tag, and include your name, address, telephone number and information about any medication your horse is receiving. If your horse has any other special needs or issues, write these on a small piece of paper, put it in a clear plastic bag and tape it securely to the halter.

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Tail ID. Put a luggage tag with your name, phone number, address and horse's information in your horse's tail. Be sure to braid the tag in, not tie it to the dock, since tying it could cut off circulation in the tail.

Hair ID. Use clippers to shave your phone number into your horse's neck. You can also use a permanent marker for this if you don't have clippers available.

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Halter tag. This simple but effective tag, sold in many tack stores and through equine catalogs, attaches to a horse's halter. The tag can be engraved with one or two lines, including the owner's phone number and address. The main drawback to this means of identification, of course, is that it is only effective if the horse is wearing the tagged halter.

Freeze brand. One of the most effective methods of horse identification is freeze branding. A cold iron is applied to the horse's neck, where it destroys the cells in the skin that produce color in the hair. The hair in that area grows back in white, in the shape of the brand. With white or gray horses, the hair does not grow back. This leaves a permanent and easily visible mark that is recorded with a freeze-branding registry. Thieves often bypass horses with freeze brands because they are easy for law enforcement to identify. If you plan to show your horse, though, you might want to consider whether freeze branding will detract from the show-ring appearance.

Hot brand. Brands traditionally used for marking cattle also can be used on horses. A hot iron is applied to the horse's neck, shoulder or rump. The heat kills the hair-producing cells, and the horse's hair does not grow back in the affected area. Hot brands are not as popular for identification purposes now that freeze brands and marks are available.

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Lip tattoo. Racehorses have long received lip tattoos for identification. Some horse owners prefer this method of identification over branding or marking because the tattoo cannot be seen unless the horse's mouth is examined. The horse owner can use whatever symbols he or she prefers, although some purebred registries have strict rules about tattooing and should be consulted before a horse is tattooed for identification purposes. Lip tattoos eventually fade and become hard to read.

DNA testing. Purebred horses can be identified using DNA testing. A strand of the horse's mane is sent to a testing laboratory, with the participating purebred registry recording the results. A DNA test is considered valid evidence when proving a horse's ownership in a court of law. However, having your horse DNA tested will not get her back to you any sooner if she is lost or stolen.

Hoof branding. Hot-branding an identifying mark into the hoof is becoming more widespread. Painless to the horse, this type of identification can be applied by a farrier. Because the horse's hoof grows regularly, the mark is not permanent and must be reapplied. Some horse owners are concerned that the branding could damage the horse's hoof, although a good farrier should be able to avoid this at the time of application.

When it comes to identifying your horse, the more methods you use, the better your chances of getting your horse back. Do whatever you can to make sure your horse is well-identified so that should the unthinkable occur, your time of separation will be brief. PH*