Discovering that your horse is missing, or has been stolen, must be one of the most traumatic experiences that any horse owner can experience. Imagine the helplessness of arriving at the stable or field to feed and care for your horse and being faced with an open gate, or an empty stable.
Horse theft is on the rise all over the world and in the light of outbreaks of Foot and Mouth Disease and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE (Mad Cow Disease) in the UK in recent years, there are fears that increasing numbers of horses are being stolen for slaughter, to end up on the dinner tables of Europe.
Given the possibility that horse thieves will be even more financially motivated to steal horses, what can horse owners do to protect their beloved animals?
- Prepare a file which includes a full description of your horse and his identifying markings. Include color photographs taken from each side, in both summer and winter coats. Keep the file in a safe place so you can quickly put your finger on it when talking to the police etc. This information can also be used to make flyers should the worst happen.
- Invite your local police or sheriff's department to your property to assess your risk and offer suggestions as to how you can improve your security. Or consult a security specialist.
- Things they may suggest include a sturdy chain and padlock on the gate.
- Security lights, especially around the entrance and the barn area.
- An alarm system.
- Network with your neighbors. Keep an eye open for suspicious activity and strangers in the vicinity. Join or form a Horse Watch together with other local horse owners.
- Consider having your horse permanently identified, either by freeze-branding, hot-branding or microchip implantation.
- Although microchip implantation may be more cosmetically pleasing than a brand, be aware that in the US there are three different makes of microchip, each of which can only be read by a special reader designed to read that chip. Slaughter houses and auction barns may not have the required reader for your particular chip, the chip may move inside the horse's body and therefore be missed when the reader is passed over the area where it should be.
- Check with your County Agricultural Extension office or local Horse Council, to see if any identification program for horse owners are offered in your area. For example, in the state of Texas, where I live, I discovered that the Texas Horse Owners Association offered such a program. I was able to select a brand, check with Harris County to make sure the brand was available, and then register my brand with the Harris County Clerk. In addition, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association offers a Horse Identification Program and maintains a computer database containing the identifying information of horses that are registered in the program.
- Branding can deter thieves that may pass up a branded horse and move on to a less easily identifiable one.
- Trailers, tack and other equipment can be permanently marked too.
I hope the worst never happens to you, but hopefully these precautions will lessen the risk and help protect your precious horse.