Thoroughbred identification is taking a long awaited step forward in technology in January, 2017 when microchipping will be required for of all foals born beginning in the new year.

Based on the successful findings of the “Alberta Thoroughbred Microchipping Project,” managed by Adrienne Herron, the Traceability Systems Specialist for Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, already 1,100 horses in that province have been implanted with identification microchips in the nasal region.

“Microchipping was recently mandated in the United States by the Jockey Club for foals of 2017 and beyond,” said Grant Watson, president of the national division of the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society (CTHS), “It was going to happen here in Canada sooner or later, it just happened faster.”

Watson said the CTHS has been working for several years with Equestrian Canada and the Alberta government in researching microchipping, which has been done in international competition horses.

“Microchipping goes beyond the lip tattoo in a thoroughbred,” said Watson. “It offers wide ranges of benefits for record keeping and farm management.”

Watson said the devastating forest fires in Fort McMurray, AB in the spring brought animal identification to the forefront. “We saw how important it was to keep records of animals as so many were loose during the fires.”

Herron, who has spent the last three years formulating ideas about animal tagging as well as thoroughbred microchipping, believes state-of the-art chips and the information they can contain, will also be integral for horses who have been retired from the track and found new careers.

“We had found in our studies that traceability in thoroughbreds had some challenges,” said Herron, who has been riding, eventing and driving horses since she was young. “Since I was familiar with the equine community, I wanted to come up with an idea for thoroughbreds somewhat like the microchipping done on FEI (Fédération Equestre Internationale) horses. Those horses have been microchipped since 2008 and the chips are attached to the horse’s passports.

“I could see a real benefit of this way of identification for thoroughbreds who go on to second careers,” said Herron, who has a Masters Degree in Animal Behaviour. “People adopting or acquiring horses can find out who the horse is by going on the Jockey Club database and entering the chip numbers.”

In thoroughbreds, horses are identified by a lip tattoo that involves a specialist branding the inside of a horse’s upper lip one letter and number at a time.

While the Jockey Club in Kentucky mandated microchip implants in the left side of the neck area in the nuchal ligament, Herron, who has also worked with ear-tagging of cattle, pigs and elk, came up with the idea to target the nasal area for implantation.

“With the neck implantation, sedation would be needed in most horses,” said Herron. “That means cost and time needed goes up. Also, we have found some migrating of the chips that have been implanted in that area.”

Chips are commonly implanted in the neck, including in the United States. Dr. Michael Cavey at Respite Farm, in Paris, KY believes the nuchal ligament area for implantation is an effective placement.

“The nuchal ligament is a very fibrous area where the microchip can embed and attach. It does not have much issue with migration and is easily accessed to read with a wand. I am not familiar with the nasal placement so I can’t comment if one is better than the other. I know we twitch horses or tube them in the area and perhaps that could lead to issue.”

All three veterinarians at Bannon Woods Veterinary Clinic in Fairdale, KY agreed the preferred location for implantation of microchips is in the nuchal ligament on the neck, just below the mane-line.

“The nasal area on the horse is just so sensitive that our vets have said it is better to implant in the neck,” said a Bannon Woods spokesperson. “The tissue in the neck is not sensitive and we have found that it is not common for it to move around in that location once implanted.”

Nasal implantation is done by flipping the lip and injecting the microchip in the hard area between the nostrils. The micropchip is ISO certified and is a unique 15-digit number that traces back to the manufacturer.

“These microchips are similar to ones used in cats and dogs, but they are a little smaller and the polymer coating anchors the chip in the tissue so that they don’t migrate. The area heals very quickly and in 24 hours you don’t even know it was implanted.”

Watson assures owners and breeders and farm managers that they are not required to purchase any equipment. “They don’t need a computer or a reader,” said Watson. “People can keep records they way they always do, this will just add to the record keeping.”

Identifying a horse without having to catch it and hold it is also a benefit of the nasal implant. “You can do a paddock of weanlings or horses living in a shedrow in a few minutes,” said Herron.

The nasal implanted microchip will not replace the lip tattoo, just yet, but certainly with the advances in technology and ease of its use, these tiny microchips will play a big role in thoroughbred breeding and racing in the future.