Freeze Brands Save Lives-Please Read and Help

Since 2019, the US Trotting Association (USTA), the registry for Standardbred horses, has been phasing out identification of horses with a five digit freezebrand, as they have done for about 25 years, in favor of a microchip only.

While they do offer an optional brand in addition to the chip, the cost is an additional $75 over the $150 fee for registration and only about 20% of breeders make the choice to add a brand. This leaves the horse without their freeze brand - their only defense at the last juncture of their lives when they can be helped. Without those white hairs on their neck, they’re brown horses in a sea of brown horses and advocates cannot easily pick them out.

There is no USTA rule compelling this change.  The USTA, a rule-making, membership body, took a vote of one committee in 2018 and issued a press release decreeing the current brand phase out.  There was no transparency or due process.  Every other policy of the USTA is subject to a months-long rule change process, where members in each district have the opportunity to debate, question and make an advisory vote on the rule proposed. The current practice affects 100% of all horses forever, yet no member, or even directors not on the pertinent committee, ever had a vote. 

The USTA apparently failed to recall a current rule compelling identification of race horses with both a visible (lip tattoo or freeze brand) and invisible (microchip) identification. Rule 7.06, page 31 of the USTA rule book, says that, “No horse that has not been tattooed or freeze branded and implanted with a microchip as authorized by the USTA will be permitted to start at an extended pari-mutuel meet….”

The USTA knows that the absence of a freeze brand makes horses more difficult to identify in the slaughter pipeline and they have long rejected requests to identify horses with a brand and chip.  They are deferring to complaints from past connections who get phone calls about horses in peril.  They object to the prices put on horses by dealers.  While no one supports those prices, it is also true that dealers, who can separate horses in a controlled environment to check for a chip, will simply buy a $279 scanner and nothing in their business model changes – the calls will continue.

Absence of a brand hinders the efforts of groups and individuals who get ahead of the dealers to assist horses, either dealing directly with horse owners who would otherwise send horses to auction, or outbidding dealers at sales.  At auction, photos and video are not allowed and there is no way to safely access a horse’s neck in crowded pens from six inches away with a $279 scanner to reveal a 15 digit number that does not identify the horse or even the breed, appearing on the screen for 90 seconds.

There is nothing wrong with a microchip – it has benefits to the animal – as does a visible form of ID like a brand.  There is no reason the USTA cannot provide both forms of ID to the horse at time of registration to give them the advantage of visible ID when they need it most. 

The USTA’s existing rule 7.06 provides just that – a mandatory visible and invisible form of ID.  Please ask them to uphold and follow their own rule?  If you are a member of the USTA, contact your directors and let them know how you feel –here is how to find that out. If you are a Standardbred owner who is not a member or an advocate for the horses, let the USTA’s CEO know how you feel at mike.tanner@ustrotting.com.  This is not a big deal – nearly every horse racing today has both forms of ID. It’s a few white hairs on their neck that can make a critical difference.