By the fall of 2018, all horses competing in the hunter/jumper, jumper and equitation divisions of United States Equestrian Federation (USEF)-recognized events must be microchipped for identification purposes.
Tiny computer chips encased in glass, microchips are implanted into the nuchal ligament of a horse’s neck by a veterinarian. Each chip stores a unique identification number that can be recorded in multiple databases, including those of the company that inserted the chip, sport organizations and breed registries. A horse’s identity can be verified within seconds by simply passing a scanner over the area where the microchip is embedded.
USEF officials say the reasons behind the new microchip rule have as much to do with equine welfare as they do managing competitive events. “Identification protects horses,” says Summer Stoffel, who worked on the USEF Horse Recording and ID Task Force Committee. “When you can’t quickly and reliably identify horses, you can’t track their welfare. You can’t track their history and experiences. Many breed organizations have already realized this and require microchipping for registration; we are now working from the other end of the line to help get as many horses caught up in this net as possible.”
Widespread use of microchips will also aid in biosecurity efforts, says Mary Babick, the National Breeds and Disciplines Council Chair for USEF and Vice President of the United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA). “A few years ago, in Ocala, Florida, I lived through the big shutdown of a show due to EHV. In those sorts of situations, people will want to know with certainty which horse has been to what show. Microchips can help veterinarians manage outbreaks.”
In addition, microchips will protect horse buyers, says Babick. “Microchipping will mean that an owner can be assured that the horse she bought is the horse she thinks she bought.”
The new USEF microchip requirement will be implemented in phases. By December 1, 2017, horses must be microchipped to qualify for points or money-won tracking lists, as well as to be eligible for other programs and events that specifically require a microchip. By November 30, 2018, all horses competing in USEF-recognized hunter/jumper, jumper or equitation divisions must be microchipped. However, this rule does not affect horses competing in hunter, jumper and/or equitation classes within Arabian, Morgan or other breed-restricted events. For these breed-specific competitions, the registration and/or identification protocols employed by governing breed organizations will continue to be used to confirm a horse’s identity under the existing USEF rules.
How exactly the microchip rule will be enforced is still under discussion, but Babick says she has proposed four instances where a horse would be scanned to detect a chip and confirm the horse’s identity. “When horses are officially measured or drug tested are two occasions. Also, when there is a protest at a show or there is an eligibility-based championship. For instance, if there is a class only for 5-year-olds, we can use a scanner to confirm that all the horses are indeed 5 years old.” Babick says scanners are inexpensive and many show officials she has spoken to already have them.
The new rule applies only to a few of the disciplines governed by USEF because that’s where inroads could be made, says Babick. “Three years ago the USHJA proposed this rule, along with the federation as our partner, encompassing the entire organization. It met some significant resistance. We learned from our mistake and came back with a more focused approach.”
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #465, June 2016.