Commentary: Chip In

<i>By Dan Liebman</i> - Pre-sale surgeries didnt keep horses such as Real Quiet and Curlin from becoming classic winners. Disclosure wouldnt have, either.

Disclosure: What does it mean? Try honesty. Seems hard to be against honesty, to take a stand against integrity. Yet many in the horse business are apparently not in favor of those concepts.

A longtime consignor said he signs tickets as agent because it is nobody’s business who he is purchasing horses for. What about who he is selling them for? What about the surgeries the animal has had? What about the places the horse has been domiciled?

The voluntary National Animal Identification System is all about disclosure…and honesty. Yet there is resistance in the equine industry to embrace it.

What is the downside of having an accurate health record of a horse? If you support disclosure, then there is no downside.

The biggest change at auctions in the past 10 years is the addition of repositories, where interested buyers and their veterinary representatives can view films on horses they are interested in bidding on. Why not take that one step further? Wouldn’t it make sense to be able to scan a microchip and see every procedure a horse has had prior to a sale? It would if you believe in honesty.

We are, after all, talking about breeding animals.

There are those who argue buyers don’t need to know that information because it only confuses them. Well, educate them. Quit believing the only reason to breed a horse is to sell it to someone else.

Pre-sale surgeries didn’t keep horses such as Real Quiet and Curlin from becoming classic winners. Disclosure wouldn’t have, either.

Microchips merely provide a modern-day paper trail, a method of tracing the history of an animal.

In the last few decades, the Thoroughbred industry has had to deal with numerous communicable diseases, outbreaks, and syndromes, such as contagious equine metritis (CEM), equine viral arteritis (EVA), strangles, mare reproductive loss syndrome (MRLS), hoof and mouth, and West Nile. With horses going from barn to barn, farm to farm, state to state, and country to country, a system to track their movement would be extremely helpful. Immediately, officials could determine the location of exposed horses, helping decide if such things as quarantines are necessary.

Today, more than 20 years after an EVA outbreak in Kentucky, some breeders still feel the release of information came too slowly. In the future, the NAIS would help answer questions should similar situations arise.

There are numerous other uses for microchips and animal identification systems:

  • Veterinarians at clinics know they often treat horses sent to them under false names. Scanning a chip would prevent this from happening.

  • Only a few racetracks require horses to be identified before workouts. While clockers are very skilled, scanning a chip before a horse works would ensure the identification of the horse and accuracy of the move.

  • Two years ago, a van driver in California was fined because he identified champion Sweet Catomine as a stable pony when she was taken from Santa Anita Park to an equine clinic. Just last month, a van driver confused barn and stall numbers and transported the wrong horse from Delaware Park to a facility in New Jersey. The ability of stable gate personnel to scan and identify horses would make such instances less likely to occur.

The horse industry has always been slow to accept change. Worse yet, many of its members prefer to keep things hidden from others. There is this thought: “What I have done to my horse is nobody’s business but my own.”

The National Animal Identification System is a good idea, but to accept that premise you must believe in disclosure. And honesty.