Anyone who has ever had their horse stolen can tell you that it takes time and money as well as emotional stress to deal with a crime like horse theft.
The biggest mistake a horse owner can make is to think that their horse is “not interesting” to thieves, because of colouration, age or type.
Horse thieves will take anything they can get their hands on including horses, tack and trailers – especially if they make for easy pickings.
Stolen horses can change hands quickly and often and horses can be impossible to trace if the thieves know what they’re doing.
So with the horse passport system in disarray and microchips going un-scanned at vettings and otherwise, what can we do to keep our horses from falling into the wrong hands?
1) Permanently mark your horse
Using one or several methods to mark your horse as belonging to you.
Microchipping and passports are required by law (UK & EU), but in addition, anything more visible on the horse will be an effective deterrent for thieves.
Freezemarking and branding are long used methods that permanently and visibly mark the horse with a code or brand, usually on the shoulder, hip, jaw, stifle or back.
Freezemarking (shoulder and back) is more common in the EU, while hot branding (jaw, shoulder, hip, stifle) is still widely used in the US by breeders and ranches.
In the US lip tattooing is also required for racehorses, which can end up being valued in the millions.
2) Keep a proof-of-ownership file
To save valuable time and frustration when you need to prove ownership a file with up-to-date information of the horse is helpful.
Since the passport needs to travel with the horse if he is being moved by a trailer and kept with the horse at the stable, you can keep photocopies or pictures of the passport in the file at home.
Also keep registration papers (if your horse is registered with an association), purchase receipt, any paperwork that proves where and when you bought the horse and recent pictures.
Pictures should be taken from both sides, clear pictures of the head and any close-up shots of any distinctive markings, such as freezemarks, whorls, colouring etc.
Also, consider if your horse looks drastically different in summer and winter and take pictures from both seasons.
3) Manage pastured horses smartly
Don’t feed horses out on pasture close to the road or by a gate, because hungry horses will congregate in the area where they’re usually fed and make for easy catching.
Feed the horses close to the house or barn and away from the pasture gate. Feed them away from the roads for increased safety.
Also remember to remove halters before turning your horses out to pasture, because, in addition to being a safety risk, halters make it easy for them to be led away.
Keep halters and lead ropes tucked away in a locked tack room – don’t leave them by the gate or fence of the pasture as a welcome to thieves.
Any expensive tack you have should also be marked and locked away so that it will only be out when in use. Make sure to regularly check on pastured horses and vary the time when you do so.
4) Hide trailers
Park your trailers where they are out of view of traffic. Don’t give prospective thieves an idea of what is available or when horse owners are home.
Park trailers in barns or out of sight and use padlocks whenever possible or necessary.
Know where the serial number is located on your model of trailer, know the license plate number of your trailer(s) and keep a picture on file in case of theft.
5) Secure gates and entryways
Especially gates, paddocks and barns close to a road should be secured well to deter thieves.
Make sure gates are padlocked on both ends as some gates can just be lifted off their hinges.
Doors and entryways should have locks on them to slow access to the horses from unwanted visitors.
Fences need regular maintenance and should be sturdy enough to not be easily knocked over by horses or humans.
Perimeter fencing and warning signs (no trespassing, security systems, beware of dog etc.) also help to deter unwelcome guests.
6) Increase security
Anything that will help deter unwelcome guests on your property is a good thing to have.
These can include things like motion sensor lights or cameras, CCTV, perimeter fencing and posting warning signs.
Having well-trained guard dogs can also add to your peace of mind, but bear in mind that the dogs will also require time and care.
The bigger the dog, the scarier the bark, but even a tiny “yapping” dog can make a burglar think twice and find a dog-free property.
If possible, have your horse facilities placed beyond the house, so that potential thieves would have to pass by the house to get to the horses and make sure to keep the activity level high close to your horses.
Don’t advertise when you’re leaving town and vary your daily routine with the horses to make it difficult for potential thieves to know when you’ll be away.
7) Establish a neighbourhood watch group
By getting the whole community of horse or livestock owners together to form a watch program can be of great benefit to all those involved.
Members of the group who are out of town can have their horses or livestock checked on by the watch group and many pairs of eyes checking up on the same animals is always better than just one pair.
At the very least, you should make it impossible for strangers to just walk off with horses, tack or drive away with equipment.
Any little thing that you can add to your set of preventative measures can make all the difference!