Horses are legally identified by a number of methods including lip tattoos, branding, and physical description. All of these have their disadvantages as tattoos and brands fade and become unreadable, while a physical description is fairly vague and can match multiple horses. Microchips are the best method to accurately identify a horse, which is necessary in the case of theft or a natural disaster such as a hurricane in which animals are lost over many miles, and finding the owners is almost impossible without a microchip. The United States does not have a microchip requirement for horses but it is becoming more common as the Jockey Club began requiring microchips to register thoroughbred foals starting this year and most European countries require microchipping of thoroughbreds. The USEF required all horses registered in the Hunter Jumper Association to be microchipped by December 1, 2017, to be able to accumulate points earned in competition. Also, the FEI has required all horses in their registry to be microchipped since 2013.By 2019, all horses competing in USEF events will have to be microchipped. Also, all thoroughbred foals registered through the Jockey Club born in 2017 and after will have to be microchipped.
However, when you look at the number of horses in the United States, only about one percent are microchipped at this time, and the limiting factor has been a database to search for the chip number. Without a database, the chip number is useless. We have online databases in dogs and cats that you can go to and find the owner, but we have not had this in horses. However, a tool to look up microchips in horses has been started at equinemicrochiplookup.org, and hopefully this will increase the number of chipped horses and enable animal health authorities to trace horses with disease and find lost horses in disaster situations. Talk with your vet about microchipping your horse.
Inserting a microchip in a horse is not a big deal. The chip is inserted in the middle third of the neck on the left side. Some horses will require sedation and local anesthesia because the microchip is contained in a fairly large needle, but most horses don't need it. It is important that the veterinarian use a 15-digit microchip and perform a surgical prep on the site to prevent infection when implanting the chip. The microchips can be read by any universal scanner and the chip numbers can be stored by the veterinarian as well as the owner.