Horse passports are commonly used within the FEI competitions
Equine Passport

The problem with equine passports5 min read

Let’s face it; it’s like a jungle out there.

It’s the responsibility of whoever buys or owns the horse to sort out the documentation for the horse, but there aren’t a whole lot of standards out there.

None the less, you might find yourself jumping through all kinds of hoops just to get your horse “legal” because you don’t want to get slapped with a fine of several thousand pounds.

Where it all started

The horse passport system was introduced to keep “bute” (phenylbutazone, which is also used to treat humans) out of the human food chain. Microchipping was introduced as an additional measure of control alongside the passports.

The food scandals surrounding horse slaughter have been more about people being revolted by the idea of eating horse meat than about the safety of it. The BBC reported the whole issue to be more of a food fraud rather than a food safety issue.

The passport system has had plenty of criticism for not functioning properly, not being enforced and being subject to a lot of abuse.

In February 2013 the BBC reported that 7 000 unauthorised documents have been circulating in the UK since 2008. Not to mention the fake horse passports that are being made continuously.

Owners report that veterinarians often don’t use the passport to record care history and many opt for the old way of doing things and issue vaccination cards instead. Many competing grounds are also happy to just see the vaccination card and don’t check passports.

Documents are not widely checked

The Ulster Society Prevention Cruelty to Animals (USPCA) in Ireland estimates that up to thousands of animals could have disappeared from Ireland in only a few years under false documents.

Falsifying passports is too easy as the quality of official, authorised documents vary greatly according to experts.

Charlie the little cob (pictured below) was found wandering the streets 11 months after official records stated he had been slaughtered. Charlie could have had his passport passed on to a larger cob that sold for more money.

Charlie.

Despite the evident problems and lack of reliability, officials are reluctant to actually do anything about it. My guess is that it’s a funding issue – there are more critical things for the governments to spend money on than lost horses.

There really is no check in balance for horses having passports. It seems that no-one really cares about the correct documentation of horses except for owners who are at risk of being fined.

Agents buying horses can sometimes skip registering a change of ownership because they don’t intend to keep the horse but sell it on as soon as possible.

Owners report that officers asking horse owners to show passports don’t always even cross-check the passports with the horses in the trailers and rarely scan their microchips for verification.

It also isn’t standard practice to scan a horse for a microchip during a pre-purchase vetting, so you might have to go out of your way to find a vet that routinely will do this without additional costs.

False documents are too easy to get

Getting a new passport for a horse is too easy – passports have been issued with no questions asked and apparently with no background check either, so horses end up with multiple passports.

Passport issuing organisations (PIOs) don’t apparently communicate with each other on these matters, so getting a second passport for your horse (which is illegal) isn’t that hard. It isn’t unheard of to have horses end up with more than one microchip either.

The National Equine Database (NED) was closed in 2012 when the government decided not to fund it any more, so another resource for horse owners to track their horses’ origins was lost.

Help isn’t available for those who need it

Help for prospective or current horse owners is not widely available as the Defra website covers the basics, but isn’t very extensive. I

n problem cases it might be hard to get an answer from the PIO that issued the passport in question, and owners are left to their own devices to sort things out – all under the looming threat of getting slapped with a fine if all isn’t in order.

When you realise you’ve been left standing with a passport that has issues it isn’t very encouraging to get on the line with some desk-clerk who doesn’t seem to care whether your horse has a passport or not.

The only thing the horse passport system seems to have brought is a lot of trouble for the horse owners. They complain that it is costly to get their horses microchipped and passported; many think the passports aren’t worth the paper they’re written on and say it’s just another way to make money off horse owners.

You’re not alone in feeling that it’s unfair

Discussion threads are full of horse owners sharing horse passport war stories and expressing their anger at how the system is mostly unjust towards those people who get their documents sorted out properly.

In the end, all horse owners want the same; to keep their horses safe, prevent them from being stolen or lost and be able to compete and move around as normal.

So when most of us diligently trek through all that red tape to make sure we’ve done it right, shouldn’t the system be more diligent in enforcing its own rules too?

You may also want to read: Help! I think my horse’s passport is a fake

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