Single Lifetime Identification Document for Equines (“Horse Passports”)

All equines in Northern Ireland need to have a Single Lifetime Identification Document (commonly referred to as a “horse passport”) to identify them.  Information on how to obtain a horse passport is included on this page

“Equines” are defined as animals of the species belonging to the genus Equus, including horses, asses, zebras, and the offspring of crossings of those species.

It is a legal requirement for all equines which reside in Northern Ireland to have a horse passport.  In addition to uniquely identifying the equine, a horse passport contains information that assists in preventing equines that are treated with certain veterinary medicines from entering the human food chain, where those medicines are harmful to human health.  Certain information which uniquely identifies the equine, and which is recorded in a horse passport must also be recorded on the United Kingdom Central Equine Database (UK-CED). 

Equines born on or after 1 July 2009, are also required to have a transponder (microchip) implanted.  Equines born before 1 July 2009 do not need a transponder unless they are moving to a new establishment where they will be resident for a period exceeding 30 days.  In this case, a transponder must be implanted prior to the equine moving. 

In Northern Ireland, equine owners are legally required to submit an application to an authorised equine passport issuing organisation (PIO) within six months of the date on which the equine is born. All equines must be identified and issued with a horse passport, from an authorised PIO, within 12 months from the date of birth of the equine. 

You may be fined up to £5,000 if you do not have an up-to-date horse passport for your equine.

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 is issued by an unauthorised organisation.  You need to complete a separate application for each equine that requires a passport. 

Identification-only passports

For non-purebred equines (i.e. equines that do not qualify for entry into a studbook operated by an authorised breed society), you can apply for a horse passport from any authorised UK PIO who will issue an identification only (ID-only) passport.  These passports will contain all of the mandatory identification information required by law to uniquely identify your equine.  As part of the application process you will need to make an appointment with a veterinary surgeon to implant a microchip in your equine and to add certain information to your application. By law, only a veterinary surgeon is permitted to implant a microchip into an equine. 

Purebred equines eligible for entry in studbooks

Some PIOs are also approved to operate purebred breeding programmes for a particular breed or breeds of equine.  These PIOs are also referred to as breed societies.  Horse passports issued by breed societies will contain all of the mandatory identification information required by law to uniquely identify the equine, and in addition to this they will contain information regarding the equine’s pedigree, including a zootechnical certificate.  These equines will be entered into the studbook operated by the breed society.  If you believe that your equine is eligible for entry into a studbook, you should contact the relevant breed society who will provide you with information on how to apply.

A list of all approved UK PIOs, including those that are approved to operate breeding programmes, is available here: 

A list of EU breeding programmes which are approved to extend into Northern Ireland is available here (includes ROI equine breed societies which can issue passports for purebred equines which reside in NI):

After you submit your application to the relevant PIO/breed society, you will receive your horse passport in the post.  The time it takes to receive your horse passport can vary, and you should seek advice from the relevant organisation on their current processing times.  In particular, passports for pedigree animals may take longer as DNA analysis is required to verify the equine’s breeding.

Once issued, the passport is valid for the lifetime of the equine.

Horse passports are small booklets that contain at least the following information which is required by law to uniquely identify an individual equine: 

  • The equine’s sex, colour and height;
  • The date of birth (may be approximate, if necessary);
  • The name of the animal;
  • The owner’s details;
  • The Universal Equine Life Number (UELN) assigned to your horse.  This is an internationally recognised numbering system and the UELN assigned to your equine will remain with it for its entire lifetime. The first three digits represent a country code, the next three digits relate to the PIO which issues the passport and the last nine digits are issued by the PIO to identify each equine registered with it;
  • The microchip number (this is not the same as the UELN. The microchip number on the transponder is the electronic link between the equine and its identification document. It displays as a three-digit ISO-3166 compatible country code and a numeric individual animal code of 12 digits which must meet the technical requirements stated in legislation and remain unique.);
  • Information regarding whether the equine can enter the human food chain when it dies.

Any equine that is identified after the legal time limit of 12 months from the date of the equine’s birth, will be treated as ‘late’ and will be issued with a ‘duplicate’ or ‘replacement’ passport.

Lost, stolen or damaged passports

If a horse passport is lost, stolen or damaged, you must apply for a replacement or duplicate passport.  You are legally required to notify the issuing PIO within 7 days of discovering that a passport is lost, stolen or damaged so that a duplicate or replacement passport can be issued.  The PIO can advise what to do and may issue a temporary document, if required, until a duplicate or replacement passport can be issued. 

Where sufficient and verifiable information is available to identify the equine (usually in the case of a damaged or defaced passport), a duplicate passport will be issued, which will be marked as “duplicate”.  Duplicate passports usually exclude the equine animal from slaughter for human consumption. Where insufficient verifiable information is available to identify the equine (usually in the case of lost or stolen passports), a replacement single lifetime identification document will be issued;  this will marked as a “replacement” passport and the equine will be excluded from slaughter for human consumption. 

The PIO is responsible for updating the UK-CED to indicate that a duplicate or replacement passport has been issued to an equine and to amend the food chain status of the animal where necessary.

The UK Central Equine Database (UK-CED)

If your equine resides in Northern Ireland, it is a legal requirement to ensure that its identification information is included and up to date on the UK-CED.  If there is any change to the equine’s identification information which is listed above (the most common examples are a change of ownership or change in food chain status), it is your legal responsibility to ensure that this information is updated on the UK-CED.  You can do this by contacting your issuing PIO who will update the UK-CED on your behalf.  Normally you will be required to also send the horse passport by post to the PIO so that it can also be updated.  If required, PIOs can issue temporary identification documents while the horse passport is being updated.

Failure to ensure that the information on the UK-CED is up to date is an offence and it may prevent you from moving your equine outside of Northern Ireland.

Further Information

The responsibilities of the Passport Issuing Organisations are laid out in the Minimum Operating Standards, which can be found here:

To note the Branch name and office contact details for the competent authority in Northern Ireland in this document are out of date, relevant contact details are set out below. Email and phone contact details are (Public) 0300 200 7852

Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs                                Equine Identification Policy Branch                                                                        Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs                                Clare House                                                                                                                303 Airport Road West                                                                                              BELFAST                                                                                                                      BT3 9ED

Please note, that where the term horse(s) is used in this text it refers to all equidae

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