I micro-chipped my little rescue dog last month.

She’s a Whippet/hound cross; think super impulsive with a high chase instinct. I have nightmares about losing her. As my veterinarian injected the tiny microchip into her neck, I wondered why we’re not routinely microchipping horses and whether that’s something I should consider as well.

We’ve all heard the stories about horses stolen right out of their paddocks or lost on a wilderness trail. Then there are the horses that get loose in natural disasters like in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or Rita. Even if you find your horse in that situation, proving ownership can be tricky. 

So, I did a little research on the benefits of microchipping horses. I learned that although  microchipping isn’t quite mainstream yet, it’s on the horizon. Many breed and competition organizations are already buying into the technology. In fact, in the Thoroughbred racing industry, lip tattoos have already been replaced by microchips. All Jockey Club Registry horses recorded after 2017 must be microchipped. Part of me will miss the lip tattoo, but the benefits of microchipping are huge and unlike lip tattoos, they never fade over time. 

What are microchips, exactly? Microchips are tiny, condensed bits of computer circuitry, like what you’d find on your PCs motherboard. A microchip can hold a boatload of information or, in the case of an animal microchip, link to a national database of information. 

The Fѐdѐration Equestre Internationale (FEI), has been using microchips to verify ownership for many years. Beyond identification, microchipping is used to track competition points, veterinary records, pre-purchase exams, and in large breeding operations, to ensure the right mare is bred to the desired stallion. 

The FEI requires that the veterinarian implanting the chip is licensed to practice in that particular country and the chip must be compatible with ISO 1174 and ISO 11785 scanners. These modern scanners can access main databases. Chip numbers are recorded in the horse’s passport and are attached to the horse for the length of his life. 

Microchipping is an almost fool-proof way of identifying horses and keeping critical information exclusive to the individual horse. It cannot be tampered with like a tattoo and it cannot be removed without a surgical procedure. Even then, surgical removal would leave a noticeable scar. 

To insert the microchip, your veterinarian prepares the site much as she would for a minor surgical procedure, inserting the chip into the nuchal ligament of your horse’s neck. There is a minimal risk of abscess or scarring. Most horses tolerate the procedure well and there’s really no way to know if a horse is microchipped unless the owner shares that information. 

Multiple studies have shown microchipping to be safe for horses. The microchip does not migrate and does not appear to have any links to cancer. Magnets do not deactivate the chip. Microchips are a  ‘read only’ device, providing a link to a database full of information you or your breed organization keep current. So, it’s up to you to keep your contact information up to date.  

The microchip is tiny, smaller than a grain of rice, and remains in your horse’s neck for the remainder of his life. The entire procedure, from surgical prep to finish, takes less than fifteen minutes and can be included in your horse’s yearly health exam. Cost of microchipping horses varies from around $50 to $100. 

It is by far the most accurate way of identifying your horse and providing a link to online health certificates, medical records, and competition points. Many breed registries, like the AQHA, are using microchips to record your horse’s ID, age, and even participation in sanctioned events. 

Some of the organizations using microchips include, The Jockey Club, the USEF (United States Equestrian Federation), the Retired Racehorse project, and the AQHA. The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) has partnered with the American Horse Council to develop a single database of all horses with registered microchips. 

Europe is way ahead of us in microchipping (as usual!). The European Union has been using microchip technology to identify horses for years. Unfortunately, as in all competitions, some competitors cheat their way to the top, but microchip technology makes cheating by substituting a different horse, almost impossible. 

Modern scanners cost around $600. The technology has already proven itself in disaster situations, returning loose horses to owners. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, several horses were reunited with their owners through  microchip identification. Some rescue organizations use scanners at feedlot auctions to identify retired thoroughbred horses or stolen horses. Microchips also prove invaluable in traceability in the event of a disease outbreak, helping health officials track down horses that might have suffered exposure to a virus. 

Next year, I’ll consider microchipping my own horses during their yearly health exam. Have you microchipped your horse or are you thinking about it? Perhaps you can think of another good use for microchips. Share your comments and stories below!


Karen Elizabeth Baril writes for both regional and national publications, including EQUUS Magazine, the Equine Journal, InfoHorse.com, and Animal Wellness. Follow her at www.karenelizabethbaril.com, on Linked In, or on Twitter.


October 15, 2019