Since October 2020, it has been compulsory to microchip all horses, ponies and donkeys. This is to prevent abuse and improve animal welfare.
Just like with many domestic pets, it’s long been recommended that horse keepers have their horses microchipped. It helps to ensure their whereabouts should they ever go missing or be suspected stolen.
However, as well as improving equine welfare as a whole, horse microchipping also helps the police and welfare charities. They can hold irresponsible keepers accountable for the abandonment or abuse of their animals.
Initially only mandatory for horses born after July 2009, the government first suggested this new law in June 2018. The law now makes the microchipping of all horses, ponies and donkeys a compulsory action for owners in the UK.
This came shortly after the release of RSPCA figures which revealed 1,000 abandoned horses had been rescued in 2017, many of which were dumped in horrific conditions. And so it was only natural the government were quick to take action.
The plans gave keepers two years to microchip their horses, so if you own a horse, it is now law.
Here’s everything you need to know…
What is a horse microchip?
A microchip for a horse is exactly the same as one for any other pet. It is the size of a grain of rice, containing a unique code. This code holds information about your horse, as well as its keepership.
The horse’s microchip must be registered to the ‘keeper’, who may not always be the owner.
A keeper of a horse is who looks after the horse daily, such as a stable or stud. They are responsible for keeping the horse safe and free of harm. A horse microchip is therefore not proof of ownership, which is where it differs from the microchip of a cat or dog.
The microchip is inserted using a needle, in between the shoulder blades. It takes just seconds. This may be uncomfortable for your horse at the time but shouldn’t cause pain.
Horse microchips can be checked using an ordinary microchip scanner.
Where can I microchip my horse?
Horse microchipping can be carried out by a registered vet. This will cost between £20 and £30.
Why is it the law to microchip my horse?
Announced by the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Christine Middlemiss, horse owners had until the 1st October 2020 in England to get their animal microchipped and registered on the central equine database. Owners must also register their pet’s microchip details with their passport issuing organisation (PIO).
In Wales, this deadline was 12th February 2021 and in Scotland, 28th March 2021.
The central equine database (CED) holds all of the information on your horse. This includes:
- Your information as the owner/keeper
- Your horse’s passport
- Which passport issuing organisation (PIO) it is registered with
- The microchip details
Once on this database, animals are easily trackable by local authorities and the police, ensuring lost horses and cases of theft can be easily solved.
In 2019 alone, the RSPCA took 875 horses into their care and in 70% of those cases, the abandoned or abused horse was not microchipped. This meant no owner could be traced and no abusers could be held responsible for their animal injustices.
How do I know if my horse is already microchipped?
You will need to scan your horse for a microchip to check whether they have one.
As it is now a legal requirement, any horses bought and sold must have a microchip before they go to their new homes. The breeder should be the first registered keeper of the horse.
The CED can make this process easier, as you can check all details of a horse to ensure it isn’t lost or stolen. Also, you should check that the passport is registered to that horse. If the horse is not microchipped, or the details are not correct, walk away from the sale and report it to the police.
Under this law, it is compulsory for owners to keep the details updated. If you rehome your horse, you must give the new owner the correct microchip registration paperwork and passport. This is so they can contact the database and register the new keeper.
Owners who do not get their horse microchipped, passported and on the CED could face a fine of up to £200.
You can check the National ChipChecker on the Equine Register’s Digital Stable for the details of your horse.
What is a horse passport?
A horse passport is a small booklet or smart card identifying your horse, pony or donkey by its height and species. It also holds the keeper’s information and whether the owner consents to if they can be used as human food when they die.
Your horse’s passport always needs to be with your animal, so if you hand over keepership, it goes with the horse. It is also required when a vet treats them. The fine for having no valid passport is unlimited.
The passport issuing organisation (PIO) need to be contacted if there are any changes to ownership within 30 days. They must also be informed of the horse’s death, and you must return the passport to them.
Your PIO needs to be told when you microchip your horse so that both are linked.
My horse doesn’t have a passport – can they still get a microchip?
If you’ve just purchased a new colt/filly or bought a new horse that’s been imported from another EU country, your horse may not even have a British passport.
This means, unfortunately, that you have an extra step ahead of you when getting your horse chipped. They are a required piece of identification and information when it comes to uploading details onto the CED.
Every horse, donkey or pony in the UK should have a legal British passport by the age of 12 months. So if your animal does not yet have one, you’ll need to try and apply for one before they are a year old.
How to apply for a horse passport
You can apply for a horse passport through a PIO of your choice. If your horse is a pedigree, it will need to be an organisation that manages studbooks.
You must then send your application to the PIO by whichever date is latest:
- 30th November in the animal’s year of birth
- Within 6 months of their birth
This can take up to six weeks to go through but once completed, it will allow you to get your horse chipped and successfully onto the CED.
This delay is seen as an acceptable reason why your horse is not microchipped. It is vital they are not sold on in this time, and you limit the likelihood of them being lost.
If you apply for a passport after their first 12 months, it will be treated as late. It will be issued as a duplicate or replacement passport.
If your horse has arrived in the UK from another country, the government advises owners to apply for a UK passport within 30 days of their entry. This ensures they are placed on the CED and the non-UK passport is updated.
If you’re lucky, they may already have a chip which can be recorded by CED, but if not, they will need a new one.
What happens if I don’t microchip my horse?
There are literally no benefits to refusing to microchip your horse and should you ever suffer the stress of losing them or having them stolen, you’ll regret not having them chipped for the rest of your life.
Not only can you struggle to be reunited, but you can face fines of around £200 by DEFRA (Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs). They will also be given sanction notices from their Local Authority, encouraging compliance with the new laws.