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Horse Passports And Knowing Your Responsibilities As A Yard Owner

Confused by the new legislation for Horse Passports? Unsure who should hold passports as a yard owner or horse owner? Below we outline the basics of a Horse Passport and answer some of the most commonly asked questions…

Since the introduction of the Horse Passport in 2004, all equines in the UK require one. This was further strengthened by the Horse Passport Regulation 2009 which also included the requirements for all equines born after June 2009 to be microchipped. As of 1st October 2018, following the introduction of The Equine Identification (England) Regulations 2018, it is now the law for EVERY equine, regardless of age, origin or use, to be microchipped and passported, and for these details to be recorded on the Central Equine Database (CED). Although this states England, it is an EU wide legislation and is in the process of also being applied to the same effect in Scotland, Wales and Ireland following consultation. The introduction of the horse passport allowed the registration and recording of any equine of any origin through ‘Passport Issuing Organisations’ (PIO) including existing stud books and many other associations or companies who began issuing them.

A horse passport is a small document providing identifying marks of the equine- including microchips or freezemarks-, details of the registered keeper and has space to identify any drugs that have been used in the course of medication. All horses are issued with a Unique Equine Lifetime Number (UELN). Horse passports were introduced in an attempt to regulate the drug consumption and contamination of equines destined to enter the meat industry, and also to regulate and tighten up legislation with regards to identifying horse and owner. Microchips were introduced as an affordable and easily applied method of linking an animal to its passport with a uniquely numbered microchip implant, and to reduce the likelihood of fraudulent passport applications.

Whilst it is now commonplace for horses to be microchipped and have a passport, many still do not either through not being passported at all, or through having their passports issued prior to the initial regulation for microchipping in 2009. New laws have been introduced in October 2018 to make microchipping of all equines compulsory. This law has been introduced alongside a brand-new Central Equine Database (CED) and it is hoped that this will be a significant step forward in helping to identify equines and owners, discourage abandonment and improve horse welfare. Horse owners have until October 2020 to have their horse’s microchipped and after which failure to have adhered to this will be punishable by law. The PIO’s are currently in the process of uploading the details of their registered equines to the new CED, so if your horse is already passported correctly you need to take no action for this to be updated. In due course, you will be able to check your equines microchip on the Chip Checker to ensure details are up to date. The Chip Checker will soon be enhanced by a Digital Stable that will enable a full record of your horse to be kept online. As well as a number of other features, this will help safeguard against horses being sold without the owner’s consent as you will be able to mark the horse as ‘for sale’, ‘not for sale’ or ‘stolen’. This feature is not yet available but you can register your interest on the site.

Whilst it is not cheap to apply for and undertake the necessary processes for a horse passport, once they are issued they stay with the animal for life. There are many companies, charities and breed associations that issue them depending upon your needs with some costing more than others. A ‘basic’ ID Only horse passport application can be from £12, with some breed societies charging more for stud book registration as well, and on top of this you will require a vet visit to microchip the animal (a cost of around £30), and to complete and sign the ID form (usually a standard vets visit cost of around £60). So in total, the cost of issuing a horse with a passport can be around £100. Passports are transferable upon the sale of animals and the passport issuing authority should be advised of the new ownership within 30 days of sale which often requires return and amendment of the passport and an administration charge for change of ownership.

There are many misconceptions as to who should hold a horses passport, as in theory equines should be accompanied by their passport at all times. Below are some key facts about horse passports:

An owner could be fined up to £5,000 if they don’t have an up-to-date horse passport 

This could include changes to the equine’s details or ownership details. If you have bought an equine, you need to contact the Passport Issuing Organisation (PIO) within 30 days to update the passport ownership details. The same should apply if you change your name or address. If your horse’s passport was issued prior to 2009 and the need for microchipping, you now need to microchip your horse to meet the new legislation. A microchip can be linked to your equines Unique Equine Life Number and added retrospectively to the horse passport.

You also need to check your equines passport- whether existing or a new application- has been issued by an official and approved Passport Issuing Organisations’ (PIO). Over the years, many PIO’s have had their consent to issue passports withdrawn due to not meeting the criteria for effective passporting. Whilst some of these are still valid and accepted, newer passports issued by such organisations are no longer legally recognised. If your equines passport is found to be issued by an unofficial organisation, or a format that is no longer accepted, you can return a copy to a current PIO and request for a new one to be issued. Here is a concise and current list of government recognised PIO’s – Horse Passport Issuing Organisations

You could get an unlimited fine if you can’t show a valid horse passport for an animal in your care. 

In one of the most significant changes, since 1st October 2018, the law now states that “You must keep a valid horse passport with your animal at all times. This includes at their stable or when you move them”. Previously it was not required when the horse was stabled or at grass meaning an owner could, in theory, retain the passport at home as long as it could be presented within 3 hours of a request from an official body such as DEFRA or welfare inspectors. A passport should also accompany the equine for all transportation and at events. Random checks can be carried out by authorities to validate passports for equines at yards, spot checks on transport or events and as such should be readily available- even if the registered owner is not accompanying the horse.

When travelling your horse, the driver must ensure all horses are accompanied by their passport. Failure to do so is not only an offence, but in the event of a breakdown, professional transport companies have the right to deny transporting any horse that is not accompanied by its passport. The only exception when the passport is not required is when the horse is being transported for emergency veterinary treatment but if stopped for a random check, you will still need to provide evidence of the passport at a later date.

Previously it was believed that there was a three-hour time frame in which a passport or documentation could be provided by the owner to the keeper following a formal request. There is no mention of such a time period in the new 2018 legislation, with it stating that ‘A person is guilty of an offence if the person fails to produce a document, record or ID when required to do so to any person acting in the course of enforcing these Regulations or the EU Regulation.’ Therefore, in theory, you must have passports on site to provide immediately to inspectors to fulfil their request. In the event that you fail to provide the passport, as the keeper of the animal- whether owner, loaner or yard owner- you may be liable for any fines in relation to non-compliance, as well as possible fines for the owner too.

If you fail to comply with the new regulations, your local authority may serve a non-compliance notice which will give you a set period to comply or depending on the severity of the offence, you may receive a fixed monetary penalty. Offences include:

  • Failing to produce a passport when instructed by a vet or inspector

  • Possessing a passport but no horse

  • Possessing a horse when the passport is not in your name without an agreement (preferably a written contract) between the owner and the ‘keeper’ (person responsible)

  • Selling a horse and not handing over the passport

  • Transporting a horse without a passport

  • Owning a horse without a microchip

What is the Horse Isn’t Mine?

It is the responsibility of the owner to obtain a passport.  However, Livery Yard owners or those loaning equines can be liable to fines if they cannot provide sufficient passports for equines in their care or for whom they are the ‘keeper’.  The ‘keeper’ means a person who is not necessarily the owner of an equine but is appointed by the owner to have day-to-day charge of that animal.  Keepers with primary responsibility for the equines day-to-day welfare- such those on loan or on full care livery packages where the owner does not visit the animal on a daily basis- should satisfy themselves that all the horses under their care have been correctly identified before agreeing to keep them and have a legal right to demand details of the passports of any equines in their care.  It is an offence to keep an equine without a passport. As such it is reasonable for a loaner to seek to retain the equines passport for the duration of their agreement, and for the owners of equestrian establishments to request details of the horse passport before accepting the equine into their care and to retain the passport, or request to see the original and retain a photocopy of the necessary passport pages, on the yard for such reasons.

Previously this was easier for yard owners as unless the equines were on a full care package such as Full Livery, it was not a necessity for them to retain the passport. In the earlier legislation, there was a three-hour window for the passport to be obtained allowing a horse owner to be contacted to supply it. New regulations mean passports must now be provided ‘without delay’. However, with the new laws now in effect, the horse should be accompanied by the passport at all times, even when at the yard. Some owners are understandably reluctant to leave their passport with the yard owner or their staff as it is a valuable document, but failure to leave it could cause problems for both parties in the event of an inspection. If you are retaining passports, the storage of these falls under the new GDPR rules so you should have adequate secure storage. Of course, there is the option of a horse owner leaving their passport in a safe place of their choice at the yard- such as in their tack locker or grooming box- but a Yard Owner must consider the practicalities of locating all passports quickly in the event of an inspection. If an owner is refusing to leave their passport, to show due diligence to authorities in the event of an inspection it is advised to retain copies of the passport pages (ownership, ID and vaccinations) and to get the owner to sign a disclaimer stating that they have refused permission for retention of the passport. In addition, in order to hold the horse and a passport with the ownership not in your name- such as if you are a loaner or yard owner- you should have an agreement in place, such as a loan contract or livery contract, which lays out your responsibilities for the horse and your right to retain it on your premises.

It's easier than you think to see if your horse is microchipped and to get one if not!

A ‘microchip’ is a small sub-dermal data tag about the size of a grain of rice. These are placed lightly under an animals skin so they are readable by microchip scanners. Once implanted, it is quite rare for a microchip to disappear or move around the body. Many owners think the only way to tell if their equine is microchipped and to find the details is to ask their vet to scan them. Whilst this is in part true, the details of microchips are also in your horses passport, along with details of the issuer. On the ‘Identification’ page of your horse’s passport that shows the vet completed silhouette, there may be a small sticker with a barcode and numbers. This will be your horse’s microchip number, and often printed on the sticker is the issuer (such as PedID or PetLog) which you can contact to confirm or update details. When originally issued, there is also usually a certificate (quite often in the form of a coloured carbon copy) with the details on. This may also accompany the horse’s passport. Of course, if you are in doubt you can indeed ask a vet to correlate the chip in the horse with that on the passport. If you’re horse does not appear to be microchipped, it is a quick, simple and cheap process undertaken by the vet at a cost of around £30.

You should always provide the passport when a vet examines or treats your animal

The medication and treatment your equine can receive will depend on how it’s categorised on its passport. In the event of your equine requiring veterinary treatment, the vet must check Section IX of the passport. This is the part that identifies if your horse is intended for human consumption upon death. If the declaration has been signed as ‘not intended for human consumption’, specific drugs -such as phenylbutazone or ‘bute’- can be administered. If the equine owner/keeper fails to produce the passport, this denies the vet’s ability to verify the status of Section IX and may alter the treatment options for the animal, potentially to the detriment of the health of that animal.

It is illegal to buy or sell an equine without a passport

No horse should be sold without a passport. If you sell or buy, an un-passported horse you could be fined. When viewing an equine, ensure the passport is provided, check the ID pages to ensure they match the horse and that all information in the passport seems correct. If you undertake a veterinary inspection prior to sale, the vet will be able to scan the microchip and verify against the details contained passport. Upon agreement of sale, ensure it is the same passport given to you on the day of sale. Never accept the purchase of an un-passported equine, if the passport will be ‘sent at a later date’, or if you have concerns that the passport and horse do not match. If there is a valid reason a horse is un-passported then the seller should apply for a passport prior to sale. Ensure the passport details and microchip details are documented on any sales receipts in case verification is required at a later date and ensure you retain the contact details of the seller.

With the launch of the new CED, this allows owners to check the passport numbers of any equines, so this is always an option to check prior to buying a horse. The ‘Digital Stable’ that will soon be available on the CED will allow owners to state if their horse is ‘for sale’ ‘not for sale’ or ‘stolen’ and as such, combined with the ability to check passport data against the PIO information on the database, will make it much easier for potential buyers to verify correct passporting of equines prior to purchase.

A lack of passport will affect your ability to move, compete or insure your equine.

Many governing bodies of grassroots and affiliated equestrian events now require passport details or the provision of the Unique Equine Lifetime Number (UELN) of an equine before accepting registration or entries. If your equine is not passported, this will restrict your ability to compete. In addition, even at unaffiliated and low-level events, random checks on horse passports can still be undertaken by authorities. Equines should be accompanied at all times by their passports when travelling and competing and as such if you are at an event- however informal- and fail to provide a valid passport upon request you could be liable for a fine of up to £5000. This is especially important if you are competing an equine on behalf of the owner- either paid or unpaid- without the owner accompanying, as it is your responsibility to ensure the passport accompanies you and the horse at all times. In addition, many insurers also require passport details in order to issue insurance on an animal. The failure to supply these details in good time could invalidate any claim for veterinary care or in the event of death if the animal or ownership cannot be identified.

There’s no expiry on horse passports – they last an animal’s lifetime.

A passport should be issued before an equine is of 6 months of age (or before the 31st December of their year of birth- whichever is first), and should accompany it for the rest of its life. It is illegal to knowingly apply for a duplicate passport for an animal or make a fraudulent application. If you have genuinely lost your horses passport, you can apply for another from the original PIO. If you are unsure of the PIO you may apply to an alternative stating the original has been lost. Within 30 days of an equines death, return its passport to the PIO that issued it. They will update their records and invalidate or destroy the passport.

You might need to change the microchip details as well

When you buy an equine it is the law to change the passport within 30 days of purchase, but you may need to change the microchip details with the issuer too. When you change passport details, some PIO’s automatically update the microchip details too. However, others don’t and it has to be done manually so it’s worth checking with the PIO issuer before sending off the passport. If you do not have the details of the original microchip issuer (which should be shown on a form similar to this), contacting Petlog -or any of the equine microchip issuers- should be able to advise you. If the chip isn’t registered with them, they should be able to tell you who it is registered with. To change the details of a microchip is usually around £30, although is free with some issuers. The same should also be considered for updating ownership details for any registered freezemarks as well.

You do not need to know your horses breeding to apply for a passport

Many PIO’s are breed societies which enter the details into their studbooks. However, many breed societies and other associations and companies offer ‘ID Only’ passports where the owner is unable to discover or prove the breeding origins of the horse. This enables a passport to be issued for the purpose of identification and ownership, without the need for breeding history.

However, if you know and can validate your equines breeding, a passport should be issued through the necessary studbook. Many horse owners opt for a cheaper ‘ID Only’ passport to save time and money but having a passport showing your horses breeding via a recognised stud book and showing its full pedigree, although expensive for the initial application, can actually increase its value due to being able to prove provenance should you wish to breed from the animal and, in the event of sale, for potential purchasers to view the accompanying breeding documents. A further benefit of registration lies with the developing equine databases which will allow you, in future, to track the performance of your registered animal.

A FULL COPY OF: The Equine Identification (England) Regulations 2018

This article has been produced and published as guidance to the current legislation of Horse Passports and has been produced using up to date information from DEFRAThe National Archives and World Horse Welfare. Further information on the reasons behind horse passports, current legislation and how to apply for a passport can be found by following their links. 

Cheryl Johns - Livery List
Horsemart Brand Ambassador
Published on 08-03-2019
Cheryl Johns is the founder of LiveryList. Launched in 2011, it has been the top-ranked Livery Yard Directory for many years, and through the Yard Owner Hub, launched in 2020, has developed into a one-of-a-kind resource for yard owners. “As an experienced equestrian and yard manager, with a background in marketing and business management, I create and publish lots of content in relation to yard management and equine welfare, as well as working in partnership with many equestrian associations, charities and publications consulting on yard management and viability. The helps support yard owners to run professional, viable businesses, and helps educate horse owners as to what they should be seeking from a yard in terms of best practice"