Ensuring that a horse is easily identifiable will go a long way to recovering the horse if it is stolen and visible identification marks can also act as a deterant. Many insurance companies also offer reduced premiums for horses that have some form of security marking on the horse.
Freezemarking is a form of ensuring a horse is easily identifiable if stolen thus allowing the horse to be traced back to the owner. However, it also acts as a useful deterant to horse thieves as it is easily visible.
A branding iron is used, cooled in liquid nitrogen, to freeze a brand of a unique set of numbers and letters onto the horse. The cold iron destroys the pigment cells on the skin so that white hairs grow within a few weeks providing a permanent identifiable mark on the horse. The freezemarking process is pain-free and the brand is usually placed under the saddle area so that it is not noticeable when the horse is ridden. There is no need to renew the freezemark as the branded skin will permanently produce white hairs.
The companies that provide freezemarking services hold a register of all the horses that they brand and supply the owner with a registration document. Therefore anyone selling a horse with a freezemark should have the registration document available and the freezemarking company will need to be informed of change of ownership of the horse at the time of sale.
Hot Iron Branding is mostly used for native ponies and some foreign traditional breeds leaving a dark identification mark on the horse that can be a deterant against theft. However it is painful to the horse and not as humane as freezemarking.
Hoof Branding is another form of Hot Iron Branding where the owner's postcode is branded onto the horse's hooves. This process is painless but with the continual hoof growth the branding needs to be renewed approximately every 6 months. As with freezemarking and Hot Iron Branding this can also act as a deterant against theft.
Lip tattooing is another form of "branding" a horse and involves having a tattoo made of letters and numbers put on the inside of the upper lip. However, tattoos can be painful for the horse, can fade in time and be altered. They are also not easily visible, meaning that they do not serve as a deterant against theft.
Microchipping involves having a mircrochip injected into the skin in the horse's neck by a vet and the microchip used is registered on the "HorseSafe" computerised system. When a scanner is passed over the microchip on the horse the identification appears on the scanner and can be matched with the record on the computerised system allowing the owner to be traced. However, microchipping does not act as a deterant against theft as the microchip is not visible.
Photographs will often help in the recovery of a stolen horse. They can be used in advertisements and notifications of the stolen horse and can also help to prove ownership of the horse when found. Ideally two sets of photographs should be kept, one of the horse in winter and one of the horse in summer, as horses can look very different in their winter and summer coats.
As well as photographs, identification documents such as a horse passport can help to identify a stolen horse. Such documents include a detailed description and positioning of whorls and markings on the horse, and may also contain photographs. Ensure that any additional identification measures are included on the horse's passport such as freezemarks, mircrochip numbers, etc so that the passport contains all information that may aid in identification of the horse.