Microchipped Equine: The Equine Industry is Finding Many Benefits in the Use of RFIDS

IDENTIFYING YOUR HORSE has always been an issue, but it’s one that technology is improving upon. While the means of identifying your horse can be as simple as descriptions like distinctive markings or even a brand, Radiofrequency Implantable Devices, called RFIDs, are offering a technological solution to horse identification. RFIDs have a slew of other benefits as well, so much so that the USDA approved them for tracking both horses and ponies in the voluntary National Animal Identification System (NAIS), and organizations like The Jockey Club and the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) are adding RFID’s into their requirements.

Approved RFID chips resemble the microchipping that is done at the veterinarian’s office for dogs and cats. A RFID chip about the size of a grain of rice is inserted just under the skin on a horse’s neck. The information on the chip can be read with a handheld scanner, revealing a 15-digitcode, or Animal Identification Numbers (AIN), that contains information about the horse and its owner, such as the owner’s address and identifiers for the horse. Certain chips even have additional sensors, such as one that allows owners to monitor a horse’s temperature, a key element of equine health.

In 2007, the USDA approved passive implantable RFID chips for use in tracking equines like ponies and horses in the NAIS. The system is meant to help track animals in the event of a disease outbreak, referred to as Animal Disease Traceability (ADT), but the RFID provide a host of bene ts in addition to disease tracking.

Registration with the NAIS is voluntary, but beneficial. What’s not voluntary is the requirement that any horse—with a few exceptions—that is moved over state lines “must be officially identified, “and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection (ICVI), according to Joelle R. Hayden with USDA APHIS. RFID chips can fulfill the identification portion of the “Traceability for Livestock Moving Interstate” rule that went into effect in 2013. “ADT provides horse owners the option to use RFID injectable transponders for official identification when they find it the preferred method. RFID does offer advantages to disease traceability, in particular the ability to accurately and efficiently record the identification number of individual horses,” Hayden said. While RFID chips are not the only legal way to prove the identity and ownership of a horse or other equine, they are becoming the gold standard of identification. Many European organizations have been using RFID microchipping for years. US Equestrian Federation (USEF) Communications Director Julian McPeak, explained, “microchipping is a standard of the Fédération Equestre Internationale(FEI), the international governing body for equestrian sport and ultimately creates an accurate way to track a horse or pony, whether for points or other means of identifying the animal.”

Many U.S. based organizations are turning to
RFID chipping as well. The Jockey Club began requiring foals that would be listed in the Club’s North American breed registry to be microchipped with a RFID chip starting with those born in 2017and later. Similarly, the US Equestrian Federation (USEF) enacted a rule on December 1st concerning RFID microchipping. “USEF will require a microchip for horses and ponies competing for points in classes that require United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) horse registration,”McPeak said. “The microchip verifies the horse or pony’s ID, which allows him or her to compete for points and prize money and to be eligible for certain US Equestrian and USHJA programs and awards.”
In fact, all horses competing at USEF competitions will need to have a RFID microchip by 2019. “Each horse or pony’s microchip number must be recorded with USEF,” McPeak shared. “Horses or ponies are subject to scanning at any time during a competition. The microchip number will be added to a horse’s USEF/USHJA certificate and verification, which is information available to competition secretaries.”

The main goal of the USDA’s approval of RFID chips is animal disease traceability, but there are many advantages of RFID microchipping. For one, it’s a less painless option than, say, branding or lip tattooing. A veterinarian inserts the RFID chip in the left side of a horse’s neck using a 14-gauge needle, into a spot below the mane called the nuchal ligament. The RFID chips are also more reliable. They can determine a horse’s identity without doubt in settings like competitions, transportation, horse sales, horse breeding, veterinarian operations, loss or theft, and more. The most important point is to get a RFID chip utilizing the 15-digit AIN, as previous chips offered only 12 digits and are no longer approved.