On the 20th May 2004 the Statutory Instrument 'The Horse Passports (England) Regulations 2004' was laid before UK Parliament, decreeing that all owners of equines (horses or anything horse-like, with the exception of zebras) were required to register for a Horse Passport by the 30th of June 2004. These regulations override 'The Horse Passports (England) Regulations 2003' which in turn replaced 'The Horse Passports Order 1997' and 'The Horse Passports (Amendment) Order 1998'. This is all happening in order to implement and comply with the EU Council Directives 90/426/EEC, 90/427/EEC, 92/353/EEC, 93/623/EEC and 2000/68/EC.

But why? Well there are several reasons. First of all, a number of societies have been issuing things like Horse Passports for quite a while now. Racehorses, for example, need a full record of ownership, family tree, medical history and so on. In the same way that systems like National Insurance (Social Security in the US) numbers and the DVLA Vehicle Registration Database help to keep track of people and cars and so on, so horse passports allow for the regulation of all things horsey. Up until recently it wasn't a legal requirement and so things were still pretty disorganised with several competing passport systems. These new rules set down clear requirements for valid horse passports.

However the main reason for the horse passport system becoming law is this: The human food chain. Oh yes. In many parts of the world horse meat is anything from basic burger stock to an exclusive delicacy. By all accounts it can be very nice. However, one thing that has been long considered very important is the knowledge of where our grub has come from. Since the EU recognises that horses may enter the human food chain, horses must be regulated just like all other edible livestock. Certain medicines and diseases would preclude an animal from being accepted for slaughter, for example any animal treated with 'Bute'. So the principle requirement of a valid horse passport is so-called 'Section IX' in which the following information appears:

  • Date and place of issue of the section.
  • The identity of a competent authority issuing the section.
  • The horse's unique identification number
  • A sign-off stating that the animal either is or isn't intended for human consumption
  • A record of treatments with medicinal products not listed in Annex I, II, III or IV of Regulation (EEC) 2377/90

Note that you can specify that the horse IS intended to be turned into burgers. You can at any time change from an IS to an ISN'T but not vice versa, so this document probably wouldn't make a good bargaining tool with which to threaten a disobedient pet.

As mentioned above the deadline for registering was the 30th June, and that's long gone now. So what are you to do if you missed the deadline? Well first of all, if the horse was only born after the 30th November 03 then you have until 31st December of the year of birth OR six months after the birth, whichever is later, to obtain a passport. Note that here the word is obtain whereas you had til 30th June to apply. So that's the first caveat. Secondly, the system is apparently totally swamped with requests right now, and thus because of the huge backlog it's likely that most people who've requested a passport won't even get the papers for quite a while. It would be wise to move fast and apply now, in all liklihood you'll just be stuck at the back of a big list. Whilst there are penalties for failing to comply with the regulations, the government are more concerned that people just get the damn passport than punishing those stragglers that are a few weeks late.

Previously the regulations had said that people had to actually acquire a valid passport by the 30th, but that went the way of all EU regulation deadlines, hence the above regulation changes. I wouldn't be at all surprised if they come up with a provisional deadline for the acquisition of a passport that's deep into 2005.

Many of the previous passports are still valid, such as a British Horse Database passport. Generally any passport issued by a recognised 'Passport Issuing Organisation' will probably be valid, but it's worth checking with the organisation to make sure. There's a large number of PIOs to choose from. Some cater for only a small range of breeds, others are less specific. Also some organisations have required in the past that freeze branding or microchip identification are used, and while the Horse Passport Regulations don't require this (sillouette diagrams are used instead) the individual organisations may still consider this mandatory.

At the bottom of this writeup there are some links to sites from which you can get further information, including a list (with contact details) of the various Passport Issuing Organisations from which you can request a passport.

This is now law and accordingly there are quite severe penalties for non-compliance. Failure to acquire a valid passport for your steed can land you a fine 'not exceeding the statutory maximum' and/or up to a two year spell in the slammer, depending on the degree to which you flout the rules. Other infractions such as moving a horse without a valid passport can also get you in trouble.

Generally speaking, most of the post-passport-acquisition restrictions set out in the regulations can be explained simply as 'where your horse goes, so does its passport'. So if you're off to a competition then you must take the passport along for the ride. Thus, if you have your own horse box then perhaps the best place to keep the passport is in the glove compartment. Don't trust your horse to look after her passport. She'll probably eat it. Lost or damaged passports can be replaced, but there are rules about that (eg the horse must thereafter be marked NOT intended for human consumption), and it'll likely cost you.

Some miscellany:

  • You need one passport for each horse.
  • Foals too, though you have a little time - either until the 31st December of the year of birth or 6 months after the DOB, whichever is later, to acquire a passport.
  • Zebras apparently don't need passports (though I imagine they need some other kind of registration, what with being rather exotic. Anyway people don't eat zebra. If you own a zorse, zonkey, zebrass or zony (or any other z-equine) it's probably worth phoning up DEFRA or the BHS to find out what the score is.
  • Donkeys and ponies need passports.
  • For information on tasty horse recipes look here and here.
  • Passports don't expire, they stay with a horse for the duration of its life, but they do need updating, for example, on changes of ownership, or, if the horse is destined for a Belgian supermarket, on the use of any medicines not on the 'OK' list (see above).
  • It's the responsibility of the owner of the horse to get a passport, not the keeper, if those are different people.
  • Rules for companies that own horses, or group ownership are slightly different - check out the Statutory Instrument.
  • It is widely believed that this is all actually related to the UK ID Cards scheme to help crack down on terrorism. Officials are worried that terrorists could be thriving in rural Europe disguised as horses.

There are various other issues which are worth looking up if this applies to you and I would point you to the first reference below, the DEFRA Horse Passports Q&A (or FAQ) which is very clear. Alternatively you could check out the second reference, the Statutory Instrument itself. It too is fairly easy to read, (for a legal regulation,) and it also has a form containing all the info needed in a valid passport. You can get by with just the DEFRA document and a phone call to your PIO of choice. If you're a special case, eg an importer or exporter of livestock, then it's worth having a look over the SI as well though. For example, they've made some special arangements for horses in the New Forest or Dartmoor. There's an 'Explanatory Note' at the end of the regulation which is quite helpful so at least check that bit out before you give up on the legalese. The third reference is also on the DEFRA site and is a list of all the Passport Issuing Organisations. While I didn't need to use it to write this article you may find it helpful if you have to sort out passports for your animals.

Some parting notes:

IANAHO. But my mother is, so I had to find out all this info for her and her horsey chums. If I've missed some subtle nuance of equestrianism then please let me know post haste!

I don't think any of this applies in the US. This writeup is about UK horse law only. But please fill in the gaps if you have something to add for your country.