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Horse identification diversifies and accuracy increases with technology

During a recent webinar, Monty McInturff, a Tennessee veterinarian, noted that horse identification is widely varied and subjective based on horse ownership. In moving forward in the industry, an identification standard should be selected. 

“We need to find the techniques that are best for our horse and will serve it,” he said.

The purpose of identification is not only to identify ownership, but also to locate a specific horse, McInturff further noted. 

New technological advances are enabling the industry to pinpoint exact animals.

Microchips

Microchips are generally for local identification of a horse by a veterinarian and can be a permanent form of identification for show purposes.

“It is also used by some international agencies as a source of permanent identification,” McInturff said. “Microchipping is very respected and well known in the equine industry.”

The chip, which is inserted by a veterinarian, is usually placed under the skin in the mid-cervical area near the crest in the neck, McInturff explained. The chip contains data like ownership, age of horse, breed and color. Some chips are readable and can contain additional information like health records. 

“The problem with chips is that many require a certain reader,” McInturff said. “If the horse was chipped in Texas, moved to Tennessee, and I don’t have the reader they had, then the chip can’t be used, and the information on the chip can’t be retrieved.” 

DNA

DNA analysis is used by breed registries to verify parentage upon registration of young horses. 

DNA is analyzed from hair roots taken from the mane or tail or blood samples taken by a veterinarian or owner and sent to a lab. Although DNA is very precise, McInturff said, it can’t be determined that day. 

“Also, if one of the parents is not registered, it can’t be used to identify a foal,” he said. 

Iris scanning

The newest technology in horse identification is iris scanning, which is similar to a human fingerprint, McInturff said. 

“A picture of the iris is taken, and that picture is mapped by an infrared camera. That mapping of the iris is given an alphanumeric number that is placed in the database. That database can be held locally or nationally,” he said. 

“What is unique about this process is that number is specific to that horse’s eye and that horse. Each horse has two permanent identifying markers at all times – a left eye and a right eye,” he continued. “So, when owners do an iris scan, scan the left and the right eye.” 

He also recommends taking a digital photo of the horse to pair with the iris scan identification. 

McInturff said the information is taken from the capture camera and put into a local database that he uses to help manage the horse’s medical records. 

“The iris scan has an accuracy greater than 99 percent, which is more accurate than a human fingerprint,” he noted.

While the technology is still relatively new, McInturff can see more uses for it in the future. 

“It could help the show industry manage a horse’s show records,” he said. “On a national level, this technology could be used for show officials and regulatory officials – the possibilities are endless.” 

As more cameras become available on the market, McInturff said this could become a very reliable way to identify horses, and information from the scan can be stored securely in a central database.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..