All horses and other equidae in Northern Ireland need to have a horse passport to identify them. The purpose of the Equine Identification Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019 is to improve the system of identifying horses and other equines. This includes the requirement for horses to have a passport and for horses born after 2009, to have a transponder (microchip) implanted. The information recorded on the horse passport will also be recorded on a UK Central Equine Database. In addition to identifying the horse, the passport contains information that seeks to prevent horses that are treated with certain veterinary medicines from entering the human food chain.
It is the responsibility of the owner of the horse to make an application for a horse passport from an authorised Passport Issuing Organisation (PIO) within six months, from the day on which the foal was born.
An owner may be fined up to £5,000 if they don’t have an up-to-date horse passport.
How to obtain a horse passport
You can get an application form for a horse passport from an authorised PIO. The passport won’t be valid if it’s issued by an unauthorised organisation. You'll need to complete a passport application for each horse you own.
PIOs who are recognised breed societies may only issue passports for a particular breed of horse, however, for horses that do not qualify for specific breed recognition there are PIOs that will issue an identity (ID-only) passport to satisfy legal requirements.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in England provides lists of all United Kingdom (UK) approved PIOs and their contact details on its website, available here:
As part of the application process you’ll need to make an appointment with a veterinarian to implant a microchip in your horse and include information in the application, as appropriate for your horse.
You’ll receive your horse’s passport in the post, which can take up to six weeks, although this can vary depending on the PIO. Once issued, the passport is valid for the lifetime of the horse.
Your horse will also get a ‘Unique Equine Life Number’ (UELN) assigned by the PIO that first identifies the horse. It appears on the horse passport, links the horse to the PIO and remains the unique identifier of the animal for its lifetime. The first three digits represent a country code, the next three digits relate to the PIO and the last nine digits are issued by the PIO to identify each equine registered with it. The UELN number is not the same as the microchip number.
Horse passports are small booklets that:
- identify your animal by its species, sex, colour, height;
- give the animals date of birth (may be approximate, if necessary);
- give the name of the animal;
- identify the owner;
- state if your animal can enter the human food chain when it dies;
- give the serial number, where applied to the passport;
- include the animal’s microchip code number;
- include the UELN of your horse.
With effect from 1 January 2016, all horses born in the European Union (EU) must be identified and issued with a horse passport, from an authorised PIO, within 12 months from the date of birth of the foal.
First passports that are issued by the PIO beyond 12 months from the birth of the foal, must be treated as ‘late’ and be issued as a Duplicate/Replacement passport. These horses will be excluded from the human food chain and declared as ‘not intended for human consumption’ in their horse passport.
Horses born in, or imported into, the EU are required to be identified in accordance with equine identification legislation.
The Equine Identification Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019 (available here) came in to operation on 29 March 2019 and they were brought in to enforce the European Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/262 (available here) which applies throughout all EU Member States from 1 January 2016.
All Equidae or equine animals, as defined in the EU Regulation, which are born or imported in to the EU, must be identified in accordance with the new EU Regulation. This includes any horses, ponies, donkeys, mules or other equine animals such as zebras.
Five Point Action Plan - New Key Requirements
Many of the requirements in the new Regulations are the same or similar to the previous Regulations (The Horse Passport Regulations (NI) 2010), but there are some key changes. In 2013 the EU Commission announced a five point action plan to address the horse meat scandal and that plan included new EU Equine Identification Regulations laying down new rules on the methods of identification to strengthen the existing horse passport regime. The new Regulation, (EU) 2015/262, came into force on 1 January 2016 and from that date it has been a legal requirement to identify horses in line with that Regulation. Passports issued before 1 January 2016 are still valid and do not need to be replaced.
The UK has decided to leave the EU following the referendum in June 2016. However, all EU rights and obligations will remain in force until the exit negotiations are concluded and the outcome of the negotiations will determine what arrangements will apply thereafter.
More information and guidance is available from authorised PIOs or you may wish to look at the Questions and Answers provided below:
Please note, that where the term horse(s) is used in this text it refers to all equidae