Icelandic horse in the field
Buying a horse Equine Passport

How to identify a fake equine passport7 min read

Anyone unable to produce an equine passport when asked can be fined up to £5000, receive up to two years’ imprisonment or both.

The purpose of the the equine passport is to:

  • prove the identity of the horse and prevent the selling of stolen equines
  • prevent certain drugs from entering the human food chain.

If someone is trying to sell you a horse without a passport shouldn’t make the purchase and report it to the Trading Standards Office.

If a vendor refuses to give you the horse passport of a horse you have bought they are breaking the law and can be prosecuted (though they probably won’t be if it’s just a one-off).

Many current and prospective horse owners are not familiar with how a horse passport should look. During the vetting process, a vet should check the passport and make sure it belongs to the horse that is being sold and a vet providing good service will scan the horse for a microchip.

When buying a horse it is helpful if you know what to look for in a passport. If anything seems off you can contact the passport-issuing organisation (PIO) or the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Here’s a list of things to check for to make sure the passport you are looking at is real.

1) The Universal Equine Life Number (UELN) has been in use since 2009

The UELN is 15 characters long and can include letters. The first 3 digits are the country code, the following 3 signify the organisation that issued the passport and the rest 9 digits are the horse’s personal register number.

You can use the UELN website to track the organisation that issued the passport.

2) The diagrams, or silhouettes, should accurately describe the horse

In older passports, it was not required for a vet or qualified person to fill in the silhouettes, but they should, in any case, match the horse you are looking at.

In passports today all entries need to be done by an authorised person, such as a vet or someone who has taken a certification in silhouette marking for passports.

There may be cases in which case the details in the passport are mismatched with the horse (even when it’s the right passport and right horse).

Some things, like colour, may change over time, but identifying markings don’t tend to change beyond recognition.

3) Make sure the name is sensible

According to the USPCA, equine welfare is in crisis in Ireland and the BBC reported that an estimated 70,000 horses have gone missing in as little as three years.

In Ireland low-value, unwanted or abandoned horses are at risk of being sold to the UK and mainland Europe with fake passports.

Fake passports with names for horses such as “Gonorrhoea” have been found, so make sure you don’t end up with one of these.

Read the USPCA statement here.

4) The breed, age and type should match the horse

If you’re looking at a 10-year-old gelding when your passport says it’s a 3-year-old mare, your red flags should be going up and your bullshit radar pinging like those annoying alarm clocks.

It isn’t unheard of that horses have gone through auction rings and sales without anyone taking a closer look at the passport; just having one along with the horse is sometimes proof enough.

The best thing you can do to make sure that you’re not buying something completely different than what it says on the paper, is to use your brain. If something feels wrong, move on.

If you suspect some minor issue but think that you can deal with it, purchase at your own risk. A lot will depend on your own skills and experience – as well as how deep your pockets are.

5) The typewritten parts in the passport and all stamps should have no spelling mistakes

Some counterfeits are really good and are hard to tell apart from the real deal.

Some real passports will have been expertly altered and you won’t be able to tell that a date of birth has been changed from 1992 to 1997 with just your naked eye.

Then again you can also come across things such as spelling mistakes in stamps and typewritten parts in a passport or even pieces of printed-at-home paper that are being passed off as authorised documents.

Don’t be a fool.

6) The timeline of your passport in relation to the information in it should add up

Check for when the passport was issued and that it matches the horse’s age; foals are required to be registered (have passports and be microchipped) by six months of age or by December 31st of the year of birth.

If a horse is imported to the EU from a country that does not require horse passports, such as those in South America, the horse will be passported and microchipped upon arrival in the EU or UK.

It is your job as the new owner (buyer) to take care of your horse being microchipped and getting a passport made within 30 days of the horse arriving.

When you’re buying form vendors who are used to selling horses to the EU or UK, they can help get everything you need ready so that you can get the proper documents ordered as soon as your horse arrives.

If the horse was first purchased by someone in Italy it will then have an Italian passport and this is perfectly okay even though the horse could have been born in Argentina.

If a passport says a horse was born in the EU or UK but has had a passport issued at age 5 – ask why (if the passport says the horse was born in 2012 but the passport is dated 2017, you’ll know it may not be the first passport).

Sometimes it is just owner ignorance that horses get their passports too late if they get them at all.

Many horses are also being bought and sold without documentation or with questionable documentation.

If the new owner has then corrected this by getting the horse a passport at a later date this is okay too, but the vendor should be able to tell you about this.

7) Have the horse scanned for a microchip

If the passport has a microchip number you should have the horse scanned to ensure that the passport belongs to the horse.

If the passport doesn’t have a microchip number you can scan and check if the horse has one anyway.

Some passports don’t have the number written in them and of course, the horse could have a passport that isn’t his. Some horses have correct passports but have ended up with two microchips.

8) Always ask plenty of questions from the vendor

Ask about the history of the horse, when the owner bought him, how many owners he had before (they might not all be registered with the passport or you may not be able to find out if the horse is from abroad) and what can they tell you about the horse’s origins if the documents seem off.

Asking questions is the sensible thing to do and will ensure you don’t buy yourself a problem.

If you’ve already bought a horse and suspect later that the passport is a fake or unauthorised you can contact the passport issuing organisation that issued the passport.

Since it is the buyer’s responsibility to make sure that the horse you’ve bought has documents that are up to date, it is advisable that you organise them as soon as possible.

To make changes to a passport you can usually just have your vet come out to check the passport, mark and stamp the changes and then send it to the PIO to be altered.

Remember to make photocopies or take pictures of your passport before sending it to be altered by recorded or registered post.

Primarily try to contact the PIO that issued the passport to clear up any problems. You can use the UELN of your horse to find out which organisation issued the passport by using the UELN database (the website looks a bit dodgy for being an official website, but their database is extensive and can really help).

Defra’s helpline may or may not be of any help – it doesn’t hurt to try if you’re in a pinch.

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