As I was headed out to the barn the other morning, happily listening to music and sipping on a fresh cup of coffee, I turned down the road that leads to my barn and was met with something that stopped me dead in my tracks. There was a horse standing at the edge of the roadway, happily munching on grass no more than 100 feet from a very busy Hwy 1. This was a lost horse.
Lost Horse With No ID
Immediately, images of the horse getting spooked and rushing out into traffic flashed through my head, so I slowly turned off my car and planned how I was going to capture this lost horse. Luckily, I always have an extra halter and lead rope in my truck, so I fished it out from under the back seat and slowly walked over to the horse. He looked up at me with an expression that said, “What?” and then he took a few steps toward me. The capture was easy and successful.
Once my heartbeat slowed a little bit, I started looking the lost horse over and realized it was not an animal that I recognized. He certainly didn’t come from my barn, nor any of the properties that I pass every day I drive out to my barn. He didn’t look sweaty or “shook up”, which told me that he obviously wasn’t far from home, but how was I going to find where he lived? So there I was, standing in the middle of the road with a horse I didn’t know and no plan as to how I was going to find where he belonged.
My mind flashed to my new puppy who was waiting for me at home, and all of the precautions that I have already taken to ensure that she could find her way home in the event she escaped. She has a microchip, she has a collar with her name and my phone number embroidered on it, as well as a buckle tag with my address and her microchip number on it. She also wears and extra tag that has my phone number displayed again, along with the phone numbers of my parents. Yes, I may be a little overkill, but I don’t have kids, so don’t judge. Back to the situation at hand, I thought to myself, why don’t people take measures to keep identification on their horses like they do the rest of their pets?
Finding the Lost Horse’s Home
Long story short, it took me about an hour to find where this horse lived – I had to walk up and down the road, ask neighbors, knock on doors, enlist help, and eventually found that he had escaped from a home two streets over the previous evening and his owners hadn’t noticed. So, the reunion was successful, but it cost me a lot of time, walking, leg work, and if not for the lead I happened to get from a man who said where the horse “might belong”, I could have ended up having to call animal control services, which I did not want to do.
After relaying my crazy story to several of my friends and doing some research online, I came up with a few methods that some people do employ to ensure that if their horses escaped, either because a gate was left open, or even during a disaster like a fire, that they could be found and identified.
Lost Horse ID – Tail Bag Method
I thought this one was pretty ingenious…one of my friends keeps a tail bag on her horse at all times, as many of us do, and the bag itself is embroidered with her horse’s name, her name, her phone number and her home address. It’s such a simple way of safely keeping identification on a horse at all times that I was a little upset I hadn’t thought of it myself. She bought several bags with embroidery already added from a shop on Etsy.com.
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Lost Horse ID – Mane Identification Tags
There are a lot of different mane ID tags out there. Some of them you can purchase, and some people simply use standard dog tags or small rubber luggage tags. Basically, you braid the tag into a small piece of your horse’s mane, and the worst-case scenario is that your horse may pull out a small section of his mane if he escapes and the tag gets caught…small price to pay for peace of mind. I found a few people who use this method and they assured me it was easy to maintain (simply re-braid in the mane once a week) and none of them had ever had the tag come out or get lost.
Lost Horse ID – Breakaway Halters with ID Tags
This method is a little more complicated, because most of us don’t believe in leaving a halter on our horses, even if it is a breakaway. For those who do, though, and for horses in pastures, this is a great place to hook a “dog tag” or to embroider your information.
Lost Horse ID – Fetlock Tags
Again, not everyone likes the idea of putting something around their horse’s leg on a regular basis, but fetlock tags made of breakaway material have been around a long time. They are used at horse shows quite often and can help people to easily identify a horse if it happens to get loose. The only issue here is that if a horse has escaped and goes running through a field or any brush, the “bracelets” can easily come off – as they are meant to do if they get caught on anything.
Lost Horse ID – Paint – It’s Not Pretty But it Works
I found one lady online who actually uses livestock paint on all of her pasture horses at all times. She paints her phone number on their rumps. It lasts about a week in most cases before needing to be reapplied and it’s definitely the most “obvious” way to identify a horse. I’m not sure how many of us would like to do that on a regular basis, but it would have certainly helped me out the other morning.
Lost Horse ID – Microchipping, Freeze Branding, Tattooing, etc.
These are all common methods of equine identification. Many of our horses already have one of these forms of identification if not multiples. Granted, these things aren’t going to help a good Samaritan who finds your horse get him home quickly and safely, but if Animal Control is called and your horse is taken into custody, these things can come in handy. They are also good methods for protecting your horse from theft.
In the end, this article is simply meant to get you “thinking” about your horse a little bit more like you do your other pets. Remember, they can’t speak, they can travel long distances in a short period of time, they can get themselves into trouble easily, and it only takes one gate that is left partially unlatched and your horse could be out on the side of the road somewhere with no identification. Personally, I am having a few tail bags embroidered as we speak, and I have also ordered a couple dog tags I plan to braid into my horse’s mane. How are you going to help to identify your horse?
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Cover Photo Credit: Sharon Jantzen