One of the most notable developments from the 2016 USEF Annual Meeting was the passing of a rule requiring USHJA registered horses to be microchipped (EQ103.2, HU101.2, JP100.2). As of December 1, 2017, all hunters, jumpers and equitation horses will need to have microchips in order to accumulate points. After a grace period of one year, all horses must have their microchip identification number recorded with the USEF in order to compete at USEF sanctioned shows for the 2019 competition year.
So, with this new development in the USEF rulebook, here are some things you should know:
What is the intention of this rule?
According to Mary Babick, the National Breeds and Disciplines Council Chair and USHJA Vice President, the main goal of this rule is to “increase customer confidence.” It is far too easy to fudge a horse’s age and/or reputation, which Babick says is “sometimes done very innocently and other times with the intention to conceal.”
Dr. Brett Gaby agrees that microchipping is a great way to ensure accurate aging of a horse.
“When you age a horse, up until nine or ten you can look at their teeth and get a pretty close age,” Dr. Gaby said. “Once they’re over ten, some horses’ teeth don’t age like other horses, and you could be off by two or three years.”
Microchipping will begin the change toward more reliable horse identification, allowing horse owners and buyers to be absolutely sure of a horse’s identity. Additionally, breeders will be able to follow their horses’ careers more closely. Because the USEF does not ask for a horse’s history upon recording it is very difficult for breeders to track them.
“Many times, a horse will either change names or receive a second, third, or fourth USEF number,” said Babick. “A microchip helps to connect the dots for the breeder.”
Microchips can also help save horses from slaughter. Rescue groups scan for microchips to identify horses and find contact information for previous owners.
How will the USEF enforce it?
Beginning in the competition year 2018, the new rule will require horses competing for points under USEF to have microchips. In 2019, this will extend to all horses competing at USEF competitions. Many veterinarians already scan for microchips on a fairly regular basis.
Dr. Kate Stephenson of Ocala, Fl., says that she scans horses during every pre-purchase exam and at the request of the owner. Babick has made some informal proposals concerning when horses will be scanned under the new rule. She suggests scanning “when measuring, when drug testing, when there are protests, and at eligibility based championships.”
How the USEF will handle microchip complaints is still in discussion.
What were some of the reasons for opposition to this rule?
Two rule change cycles ago, those in attendance at the meeting adamantly vetoed the proposal of the microchipping rule. People were concerned that the microchipping process was too expensive, especially those with a high volume of horses.
“There were many urban legends that circulated at that meeting,” Babick recalled. People were misinformed, and the idea of horse identification seemed very foreign and invasive. Another reason the rule was opposed was that it seemed to make competing in rated shows more inaccessible. Babick made an effort to keep this rule in motion.
“I kept track of the objections so we could educated people and try again… The true work was done prior to the  Annual Meeting through the use of research and communication. Sometimes it came down to sitting people down one on one and answering their questions.”
How do you know if your horse is microchipped?
Most horses imported from Europe are microchipped, as required by EU law signed in 2009. Regardless of whether or not your horse came from overseas, you should still have your veterinarian scan them to see if they are already chipped. Babick has also proposed the idea of microchip clinics for USEF members to have their horses scanned. If they don’t have a microchip already, she hopes to give horse owners an opportunity to have their horses chipped by a veterinarian at a discounted price.
“I think that it will provide a great service to our members,” she said.
What is the process for microchipping your horse?
After cleaning the site with alcohol, a large gauge needle is used to insert the microchip into the nuchal ligament on the left side of the horse’s neck, halfway between the poll and the withers.
“It’s just like giving a shot, it’s very simple—and it’s quick,” said Dr. Gaby.
Some veterinarians, like Dr. Stephenson, like to use a small amount of local anesthetic.
“The needle is about 14G and pretty large, so I feel better using carbocaine pre-injection, but it’s not completely necessary.”
After inserting the chip, the vet will scan the horse’s neck to make sure it works properly. In order to record the number, the owner is responsible for registering the chip with a recording company. Microchips last forever, so there is no need to repeat this process.
Are microchips harmful to the horse?
Dr. Stephenson describes the material which microchips are made of as an “inert metal.” Inserting a microchip is not an invasive process, and it is very unlikely that a horse would have a reaction.
“I’ve never had one have a reaction to a microchip,” says Dr. Gaby.
So, despite misconceptions about microchipping, it turns out that it is just as simple as giving a vaccination.
Are they expensive?
Although many people assume that microchipping is outrageously pricey, it is not exorbitantly expensive. The price of a chip, plus the veterinary fees, can range from $40-$120, depending on the vet you use and the cost of the original chip.
How is microchipping different than other forms of identification, such as branding?
Branding has been used for years. From hot branding to freeze branding to lip tattoos found in thoroughbreds, it is an age-old technique for horse identification. But branding is not the most horse-friendly method.
“I think branding—the way they used to do it in Europe—it’s definitely a traumatic event. Branding can also be altered,” says Dr. Gaby.
Microchips are very difficult to remove (because they are so tiny) and cannot be tampered with. Brands on the other hand, can be added to and changed. Dr. Stephenson considers microchipping to be a “more humane, ethical, and reliable” form of identification.