From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published August 27, 2012 10:06 AM

Is Horse Branding Still Necessary?

Animal identification has become much more sophisticated over the years. For horse owners, it has always been necessary to be able to tell their animals apart for various reasons. For example, a horse needs to be identified if it is to be sold or entered into a competition. The traditional method for this has been branding the animal with a hot iron. However, animal identification for the average dog or cat owner consists of much more humane methods such as microchip transponders implanted under the skin. If these microchips are available, why are horses still being put through the stress of having their skin fried? A new study looks at the issue of animal identification from a scientific angle to determine if this old tradition still holds merit.


In Europe, horse branding has been essentially ended, with just a few countries still continuing the practice. Advocates claim that branding is perfectly satisfactory and saves horse owners the need to purchase costly equipment.

Typical brands have multiple elements for identification. There is usually a symbol indicating the particular breed along with a number to identify each individual. The question is how well can these brandings be read over time.

The study was conducted by Jörg and Christine Aurich from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria. They brought in three well experienced people to record the brands on 250 horses competing in a German equestrian event.

They were able to identify 90 percent of the breed symbols on the horses, and 84 percent were identified correctly by all three people. However, with the branded numbers, only half could be recorded correctly, and only 40 percent were correctly recorded by all three.

The researchers decided to confirm their findings by trying to identify the brands under more ideal conditions. They looked at markings on 28 horses that had been euthanized and shaved in the area around the brand (usually the left thigh and the left side of neck for two of them.

The markings could only be identified on nine of them, and for six, neither the symbol nor the number could be read! Furthermore, the researchers examined the body tissue around the branding site and found changes in the tissue consistent with experiencing third degree burns.

The study had reached the conclusion that branding clearly is not effective for identification and can be considered an unnecessary cruel practice.

Jörg Aurich sums up the results concisely. "Branding is clearly associated with local tissue damage and the markings are often insufficiently clear to be decoded, even by experienced observers or after the horse has died. There really isn't any reason to continue to mark horses in this outdated way."

The study has been published in the Veterinary Journal

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