Passports for Horses: the legal requirements

Buying and caring for a horse or pony (or similar animal) is an expensive and time-consuming business. Apart from the accommodation, maintenance, insurance and veterinary fees, you may have to factor in the administrative costs of obtaining a horse passport. Without a current horse passport, you are limited in what you can do with your horse.

What is a horse passport?

A horse passport is a small booklet or a smart card that contain key information details about your horse, including its breed, age, appearance and the medications it has received. The horse must also have a microchip identification implant. If you keep or sell a horse without a valid horse passport, you are committing an offence.

You will need to keep the horse passport with you at your stables and when you move locations with your horse.

How I obtain a horse passport?

Once you have decided to go ahead with the purchase of a horse, the seller should produce the existing horse passport. If they don’t have one, they cannot legally sell it, and you should contact pro Standards. However, in the case of a foal – the owner needs to apply for a new passport either before the end of the year in which it was born, or within 6 months if born between July and December.

Assuming the seller gives you a valid horse passport at the time of the sale (unless it’s a foal), you have then 30 days to give your details as the new owner to the Passport Issuing Organisation (PIO) that issued the previous passport. You will then be given a temporary passport lasting 45 days pending the issuing of a new one.

For the new horse passport, you must get an application form from an authorised PIO, most of which are renowned breed societies. They can only issue passports for a particular breed of horse. A list of approved PIOs and their contact details is available at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) website. It is important that the PIO is authorised: if you obtain one from an unauthorised organisation it will not be valid.

In your application, you must state whether or not your horse is intended for human consumption. Though most horses in the UK are not meant for human consumption, this declaration is required
to prevent horses treated with certain poisonous medicines entering the human food chain.

If you need to declare that your horse is intended for human consumption, your vet will document all medication given to your horse. Your vet will always check the declaration before treating it with medicines that could pose a risk to humans (the Veterinary Medicines Directorate provides a list of medicines that need to be documented in your horse’s passport.

One you have applied for a new horse passport, you will receive it in the post within five to fifteen working days. Once issued, it is valid for the horse’s lifetime. You will be given a Unique Equine Life Number (UELN) for horse. These details will be added to the National Equine Database which holds details of the number and the various categories of horses in the UK.

You will also need to see a vet who is experienced in working with horses, to have your horse micro-chipped. To find a local horse vet, visit the website of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

What if you don’t have a current horse passport?

As the owner, you are responsible for ensuring you have an up-to-date horse passport so that the horse can be identified. If you do not have a valid horse passport, you cannot enter your horse in competitions, move your horse to new premises, sell or export your horse, breed your horse, or have it slaughtered for human consumption.

You may also be asked to produce your horse’s passport by a trading standards inspector from your local council, or other enforcement officer. If cannot produce a current passport, you could be liable for an unlimited fine.

Can I get a replacement for a lost horse passport?

Yes, you lose your horse passport, you can apply for a replacement from the PIO which issued it. The PIO will give you a substitution passport. You can only have one valid passport for each horse you own.

What’s the situation if I want to import a horse?

If you are planning to import a horse from a country inside the European Union (EU), it needs a valid horse passport, issued by a certified Passport Issuing Organisation (PIO) in the EU. If the owner is not certified, or does not have a current passport, you must apply for one in the UK within 30 days of importing the horse. You should also note that if the horse’s passport does not include a declaration in relation to human consumption (see above), it will need to be updated.

What happens to the passport if my horse dies?

If your dies, you must return the passport to the issuing PIO within 30 days of its death. The PIO will then destroy or invalidate the passport and update its records accordingly.

Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A former solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.