Thwart Horse Theft: Three Ways to Identify Your Horses

by Matt

Horse theft seems to be as popular these days as it was back in the Wild West. We may not call them rustlers any more, but we still have to be on high alert to protect our horses from thieves who might appear on foot or with a trailer, ready to open our gates, break into our barns, and take our horses from us. In a recent article, we talked about simple strategies to improve security around the barn. Now, let’s look at a few simple ways to mark your horses as your property.

Microchips: Microchipping horses is growing in popularity. Anyone who has adopted a pet from an animal shelter or rescue in the past few years has probably received a crash course in microchipping, as it has become normal operating procedure for many charities. From microchipping your dog, it’s a simple leap to add one to your horse, as well. In Europe, microchipping a horse is mandatory if the horse is to receive a passport for travel.

Of course, horses aren’t dogs or cats, and microchips work a little differently. With small animals, a chip is slipped right under the skin; horses require the chip to be placed within the neck muscle, and even then, it might migrate, causing issues for reading the chip down the road. Despite this possibility, microchips pose very little chance for injury, with only limited inflammation reported in most studies.

Freeze Brands: If you’re looking for something a little more visible than microchips, freeze branding is definitely easy to see. The white hair follicles left behind from a freeze brand last a lifetime, leaving a design or serial number which is fairly legible for years, unlike lip tattoos.

The freeze brand process uses extreme cold to destroy the color follicles located at the root of the horse’s hair shaft. The hair shaft’s growth follicle is left intact, so the hair grows back white. On gray horses, a typical freeze brand of white hair would be nearly invisible, so the brand can be held a little longer in order to kill off hair follicle growth completely, creating a hairless brand much like a typical hot brand.

Freeze brands can be registered with your state’s registration agency, like hot brands, although every state has different requirements.

Hot Brands: Registered hot brands for horses are still an acknowledged method to mark ownership, to say nothing of breed registries which still use them to mark approved breeding horses. Most horsemen who use hot branding say that the process is very quick: by the time the horse realizes there’s something going on, the brand is placed.

Hot brands can be less visible than freeze brands, which may be a plus or a minus depending on the way you use your horse. A show jumper with a breed brand is a common sight at horse shows, while a freeze brand might attract a little more attention since it’s still a non-traditional marking in that field.

While nothing replaces surveillance and good security measures, finding a way to leave a physical mark of ownership on your horse is still a valid consideration for those concerned about theft. Whether you choose to microchip, freeze brand, or hot brand depends on just how much visibility you want. Either way, you’re a little bit closer to finding security for your horse.

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