If you are looking to buy a new horse or pony, you are probably about to spend a significant amount of money to acquire one, and will of course want to protect your investment as best you can. One of the most visually obvious ways that you can help to make your horse look less desirable to thieves, and to help you to get your horse back and prove ownership if they were stolen, is to have them freeze marked. You have probably seen freeze marked horses and ponies already- they have a combination of letters and numbers clearly visible in white hair against the rest of the coat, usually on the back in the area that will be covered by the saddle. Are you wondering about exactly what freeze marking is, how it is done, and if it is a good idea? What about if you’re thinking of buying a horse that is already freeze marked, but the owners are unable to provide any documentation for it? Read on to find out more!
Freeze marking is a cold branding process, meaning that the letter and number shapes that make up the freeze mark are permanently tattooed into the coat using a cold iron. This kills the pigmentation in the hair, causing the hair that grows in that spot to turn white, and stand out against the rest of the coat. On light coloured horses, freeze marking sometimes does not appear visible unless viewed up close, although it should still be identifiable. Specially trained and experienced technicians, who are certified to perform the procedure and have all of the necessary equipment, carry out freeze marking.
Freeze marking is not like hot branding, where the surface of the skin is seared and burnt, which is obviously incredibly painful. The cold branding process that is freeze marking acts as a numbing agent, so that the cold burn that causes the brand is not reputed to be painful. Understandably, freeze marking is uncomfortable and some horses may need to be restrained or have their attention diverted away from what is going on for the first few seconds.
Freeze marking is a good idea for a variety of reasons. Primarily, freeze marking is designed to provide a visual deterrent to thieves, who will think twice about stealing a horse that can be traced back to the original owner. Also, it would be much harder for a thief to sell on a horse that is freeze marked without the registered and verifiable paperwork showing ownership of the horse, which of course the thief will not be able to access. The presence of a freeze mark on your horse also means that it should be easier to locate and identify your horse if they were to stray or be stolen, and the various companies that offer a freeze marking service to horse owners will help you to do this. Some horse insurance companies offer a reduction in the cost of insuring horses that are freeze marked. It is sometimes rumoured that freeze marked horses and ponies are marked down in the showing ring in breed and type classes that are shown in hand; this should never happen, and clear guidance is in place within almost every breed society and formal showing organisation to specify that freeze marked horses and ponies should not be marked down. However, whether or not any particular judge simply can’t seem to see past the freeze mark and marks accordingly is a matter of pure conjecture. It certainly seems to happen much less frequently these days than it used to, and if you believe you have been marked down in the show ring due to the presence of a freeze mark, you should always appeal against the decision.
If you are buying a horse or pony that is already freeze marked, the owner should have all of the relevant paperwork to match the horse to the number and be able to show this to you before your buy, and transfer it over to you upon purchase. You should also be able to verify that the freeze mark paperwork you are shown is accurate and correct by contacting the one of the freeze marking companies themselves. They will not be able to give you any private information about the owner or past owners without their permission, due to data protection laws and out of respect for the owner of the horse, but they can verify for you if the horse has ever been reported as lost or stolen and what its current status is. If you are looking to buy a horse or pony that is freeze marked but has no accompanying paperwork, you should be wary. There is an annual fee of around £10 charged to keep the details of a freeze marked horse current and registered, and sometimes this lapses and is not renewed, which is one legitimate reason for there being no accompanying paperwork with a horse. However, it could also mean that at some point the horse was lost or stolen- even if the current owner came by the horse legitimately. Again, check with the freeze marking companies to be sure. If you buy a freeze marked horse that has no paperwork, you should be able to re-activate registration under the current freeze mark number with the company that applied it.
If freeze marking doesn’t appeal to you but you still want a way of permanently identifying your horse or pony, microchipping is another alternative. Many people have their horses microchipped and freeze marked at the same time to be doubly safe! Microchipping does not provide the kind of visual deterrent that freeze marking does, and horses are rarely scanned for a microchip without good reason. However microchipping is permanent, non intrusive and does not require a period of time to recover from before riding afterwards. Microchipping is also necessary if you wish to get an equine passport for your horse to transport them in and out of the UK.
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