Horse identification and proof of ownership are not the same


There are many ways to identify horses, but when it comes to official horse identification and proof of ownership, this is a trickier matter. Let’s tackle identification first.


For identification purposes, there are lots of options to identify a horse:




  • This involves a tiny chip inserted into the nuchal ligament halfway down the neck on the left side by a veterinarian. No sedation is required, and there is no battery or power source in the chip. Several types of chips correspond to a few different chip readers (scanners), so be sure the chip you and your vet select is universal and can be recognized and read from any scanner. You will register your chip with the manufacturer with your current contact info. Most companies charge a very nominal, one-time fee to register. Once a microchip is placed in your horse, no one will be the wiser!


horse with oldenburg brand on back leg

Some horse breeds have a unique symbol as part of the brand.


Hot branding


  • This is typically done on the left hindquarter, although I have seen some on the right hindquarter or the forearm in front of the elbow. This is fairly straightforward, a specific shape corresponding to a breeding farm, ranch, or brand registry is literally burnt into the skin. This causes the tissue to die, and subsequent scar tissue to form, which creates that fairly obvious mark. Some horses have a very faint brand that can only be seen with a summer coat, or when clipped. This has been very popular among European breeds in the past, and most warmblood registries have a distinctive symbol. Some countries are now outlawing this practice.

Freeze branding


  • This is another way to create a visible mark on the horse, and I think we are all familiar with the Mustang freeze brand on the neck. This technology uses liquid nitrogen (beyond icy cold) to damage the pigment-producing cells, which causes the hair to grow back white. A long winter coat may muddle the markings.

Iris Scans


  • There is also new technology to iris scan horses for identification purposes. Very James Bond! Digital photographs of the eyes are taken and processed by a computer program. This is non-invasive, which is a big plus for some horse owners.



  • DNA can also be used to identify horses, and in some European countries has even proven that a horse’s sire is not really who it was initially thought! (oops!) DNA tests are performed in a lab and only need a few hairs.



  • Most of us are familiar with Thoroughbreds registered with the Jockey Club. An alpha-numeric code is tattooed into the upper lip on the inside, corresponding to the year of birth and a unique ID number. Some Standardbreds, Appys, and Arabians also have tattoos.


But does any of this really PROVE horse ownership? NO.


  • Even registration papers do not prove ownership, as these can be falsified, or accidentally forgotten about.


  • This also would not even apply to the many horses out there that are not registered! You may also be wondering about an FEI passport, which also does not prove ownership.  This is a detailed document about your horse, with detailed drawings of markings, descriptions, and vaccine and medical records. But it’s still not proof.


So how do you prove horse ownership?


  • In most courts of law, you need a bill of sale, the more detailed the better. A typical bill of sale will have the following components:


    • Parties involved
    • Description of the horse
    • Purchase price and payment schedule
    • Protocol for transfer of registration or other papers
    • Warranties, risk of loss, and pre-purchase information.


FEI passport

The FEI passport doesn’t prove ownership, but it’s a start.


If you do not have a bill of sale, you may be able to prove ownership with a boatload of records and receipts, such as:


    • Passport
    • Registration
    • Veterinary receipts
    • Board, feed, tack receipts
    • Photos
    • Insurance premium payments


What method of ID do you use for your horse? What about a bill of sale – do you have one?