Iris Scanning Aids in Horse Identification

Iris Scanning

Iris scanning is an accurate way to identify horses.

Identifying one horse from another might not seem like a challenge, but for some horse owners, breed associations, and event organizers, an accurate form of identification ensures the right horses are where they need to be, when they need to be there. Recent developments in iris scanning have led to a new form of equine identification, and research has indicated that the horse's eye could be the most telling identifier.

David Knupp, of Global Animal Management, explained that a digital photograph of an equine eye can act as an accurate and detailed identifier. A specially designed infrared camera is used to measure numerous points on the iris. Then, an algorithm is used to create an alphanumeric code that serves as the horse's identification number.

Knupp explained that the eye scanner uses the patterns in the iris to identify a horse, much the same way fingerprints are used to identify humans. The iris becomes stable once the horse has reached a year of age, he said, and no two irises are identical, including those of clones. Already used in humans (mainly for security purposes at present), iris scanning is one of the most accurate forms of identification, Knupp added.

Current equine identification methods include lip tattoos, freeze or hot iron brands, microchips, and DNA analysis. While all of these options are used successfully and frequently, Knupp pointed out that they are all invasive in nature. An iris scan, on the other hand, can be accomplished in a noninvasive manner and allows the person doing the scanning to hold the camera about a foot away from the horse, a feature that will likely aid in identifying unruly or nervous horses.

While severe ocular injuries can potentially disrupt the scanner's efficacy, research results have indicated that a positive identification can still be made with 60% of the iris intact. In the event of an enucleation (total removal of the eye), the opposite eye can serve as an identifier, as it also has an individual iris that can be scanned and documented, Knupp said. Additionally, he said, cataracts and glaucoma don't appear to diminish the identification process since the iris is located on the front of the eye; however, certain pathology can potentially disrupt the identification process, he added.

Monty McInturff, DVM, an equine practitioner at Tennessee Equine Hospital LLP in Thompson’s Station, believes that horse owners will appreciate the noninvasive approach that iris scanning takes to horse identification: "The accuracy is amazing and our clients enjoy the new technology being applied to their horse. Clients like  the idea of not putting their horse through the pain of microchipping. As veterinary medicine evolves technology will lead the way."

While the new technology is not yet available to the public, Knupp hopes an iris scanning identification product will be available to consumers in the fall.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.