The advice sheets below have the latest information on animal health and welfare. If you need more advice call 01753 475111 (Enforcement & Regulatory option).
In the guide
This guidance is for England
All horse owners must have a passport for their horses. The owner of a horse must obtain a passport for it on or before 31 December of the year of its birth or by six months after its birth, whichever is the later.
Foals born since 1 August 2009 need to be microchipped with a unique number that is matched to the owner's contact details, as well as getting a passport.
A horse cannot be sold without a passport (veterinary or breed certificates are not passports) although there are a few exceptions. When a horse is sold, the seller must give the passport to the buyer at the time of the sale and the buyer must register the new ownership within 30 days. If a horse dies or is slaughtered, the keeper must return the passport to the passport-issuing organisation (PIO) within 30 days of the animal's death.
In EU Regulation (EU) 2015/262 laying down rules pursuant to Directives 90/427/EEC and 2009/156/EC as regards the methods for the identification of equidae (Equine Passport Regulation) 'equidae' or 'equine animal(s)' are defined as 'wild or domesticated soliped mammals of all species within the genus Equus of the family Equidae, and their crosses' - for example, horse, donkey, mule, hinny (jennet), zebra, Przewalski, or their crosses.
Horse passports are required by European law and are necessary in order to prevent horses that have been treated with certain veterinary medicines (such as wormers and analgesics) from entering the human food chain. Although we do not consume horsemeat in any great quantity in the UK, a large number of horses are slaughtered in Britain each year for export for human consumption.
Passports will also help reduce the risk of a ban being introduced on up to 75% of veterinary medicines (including phenylbutazone, also known as 'Bute') currently used to treat horses.
A horse passport is a booklet (minimum A5 size), written in both English and French, that uniquely identifies a horse throughout its life and has been issued by a recognised PIO. The passport details the horse's identity, including its unique life number and microchip number (in new passports this information will be laminated to prevent alteration). The later pages show the veterinary treatment history of the horse, its movement and ownership history, and a declaration as to whether or not the horse is intended for human consumption.
Applications for a passport must be made by the owner of the horse (or the owner's appointed agent) in writing to a PIO and be in the format specified by that PIO.
A list of PIOs (opens in a new window) is available on the GOV.UK website.
The owner or keeper with primary responsibility for any horse must ensure it has a passport issued by a PIO. As well as getting a passport, a horse will need to be microchipped. However, if your horse was born before 1 August 2009 and you have a passport, the horse will not need to be microchipped.
All horses over six months old should already have passports. However, where a horse has not previously been issued with a passport it will need to be microchipped before the passport can be applied for. Where the passport has not been applied for within the required time limits, the animal will automatically be signed out of the human food chain.
The owner of a horse must obtain a passport for it on or before 31 December of the year of its birth, or by six months after the animal's birth, whichever is the later. Only the owner of the horse can apply for a passport.
A horse cannot be sold without a passport (veterinary or breed certificates are not passports).
Foals need to be microchipped with a unique number that is matched to the owner's contact details, as well as getting a passport. This must be done before the foal is six months old or by 31 December in the year it is born, whichever is later. However, foals will need to be microchipped and get a passport earlier if they are to be sold before this time limit has elapsed.
Foals without a passport may be moved with their dam / foster mare for production purposes - for example, to and from a stud; they may also be sold without a passport providing they remain with their dam. Owners should note that some auctioneers may require all horses to have a valid passport for sale at auction.
Microchips, which are also known as transponders, are read-only passive radio frequency identification devices that are implanted into a horse's body and have an identification number unique to that particular animal. Only a registered veterinary surgeon of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (opens in a new window) can implant the device. A vet must undertake procedures to detect any previous devices already fitted to a horse before beginning to implant a microchip.
The diagram of the horse (silhouette) is not compulsory in passports because horses are microchipped to confirm their identity. However, if your horse is registered with a breed society, their individual rules may state that you still need a silhouette or a similar record of identification marks. This does not replace the requirement for a microchip.
A smartcard is a plastic device with an embedded computer chip capable of storing data that can be read by compatible computer systems. The devices can be authorised for use in member states of the European Union (EU) to accompany the horse instead of the passport, allowing equines to move within agreed European national boundaries. The smartcard must be issued by the same PIO that issued the paper passport and must be approved by Defra for use in the UK.
The passport (or smartcard) must accompany a horse at all times. The person with primary responsibility for the horse must have the passport made available to them if they are not the owner. The exceptions to this are:
When a horse is sold the owner must give the passport to the buyer at the time of the sale (sale includes any transfer of ownership, whether or not any money changes hands). In the case of auction sales, the passport must be given to the auctioneers, who must then give it to the buyer. The buyer must notify the issuing PIO (note the PIO may be based in another EU member state) to register the new ownership within 30 days, and include:
There is no exemption for dealers that sell a horse within 30 days of purchasing it.
Note: it is advisable to thoroughly check a passport before purchasing a horse, and in particular check that the date of birth has not been altered.
When a horse dies, the keeper must return the passport to the PIO within 30 days of the animal's death, but can request that it is sent back once the procedure of logging the death and cancelling the passport has been completed.
When a horse is sold to a slaughterhouse, the occupier of the slaughterhouse will give the passport to the official veterinary surgeon.
Where a passport has been lost but the horse's identity can be established and an ownership declaration is available, any person may apply for a replacement passport for that horse to the PIO, if known. Where the original PIO is not known, and there is no microchip that can be traced, the owner should apply to any PIO.
Article 37 of Regulation 2015/262 laying down rules pursuant to Directives 90/427/EEC and 2009/156/EC states that: 'An equine animal shall be deemed to be intended for slaughter for human consumption except where it is, in accordance with this Regulation, irreversibly declared as not so intended in Part II of Section II of the identification document by: signature of: (a) the owner at his/her own discretion, or (b) the keeper and veterinarian responsible (for administering veterinary medicine); or where applicable the PIO issuing a duplicate or replacement identification document in accordance with the relevant articles.'
The passport needs to be available at the time of treatment with a veterinary medicine. If the horse is not already signed out of the food chain and the veterinary medicine to be administered will require it, the vet is obliged to ensure this is done in part II of section II. The vet may also need to 'invalidate' part III of section II of the passport.
The substances that should not be administered, supplied or prescribed to a food-producing animal are:
If any of these substances are administered the horse can never be slaughtered for human consumption and the declaration in section II of the horse passport must be signed by the veterinarian or the owner as 'not intended for human consumption'. Your vet will be able to advise you further regarding the above products and medicines.
You are advised to think carefully before deciding whether you wish to voluntarily sign your horse out of the human food chain.
A 'not intended' declaration at part II of section II of the passport cannot be reversed and a horse may not be consigned for slaughter for human consumption if this section has been signed.
If unplanned or emergency veterinary treatment is required and the passport is not available, the vet will not know whether your horse is signed out of the food chain and will therefore be permitted to administer only substances suitable for food-producing animals. The vet is required to record all vaccinations a horse receives in sections VII and VIII of the horse passport.
The vet is also required to enter the date of the last administration, as prescribed, of that medicinal product in section II of the passport. The animal so treated can be slaughtered for human consumption only after the end of the general withdrawal period of six months following the date of the last administration.
Wild or semi-wild horses identified in the lists kept by the Dartmoor Commoners Council (opens in a new window), the stud book of the Exmoor Pony Society (opens in a new window), and identified in the lists kept by Verderers of the New Forest (opens in a new window) or entered in the stud book of the New Forest Pony Breeding and Cattle Society (opens in a new window), are exempt from the requirement for horse passports until such times as they leave those respective areas, or are brought into domestic use. This exemption applies to those animals so listed and contained within the designated areas. All other horses in those areas are required to have horse passports.
A horse may be moved within the EU only if it is accompanied by a passport (with a few exceptions). Horses entering the EU from a third country with an identification document may be considered valid if they comply with set conditions. The owner of any horse entering England from outside the EU without a horse passport issued by a PIO must apply for a horse passport within 30 days of entering the country. Until the passport is issued, no change of ownership may take place.
The horse will need to be identified in accordance with EU rules and will require a microchip when being issued with a passport. If the horse has an existing microchip detected, it may be possible to use this identification and update the existing passport. Any passport so issued must state that the horse is not intended for human consumption.
Authorised officers of the Secretary of State or the local authority have power to enter premises (and vehicles) and inspect horse passports and other documents at any reasonable time.
The Regulations require that you must:
Failure to comply with these requirements is a criminal offence. The maximum penalty is a fine and two years' imprisonment.
More comprehensive information on horse passports (opens in a new window) can be found on the GOV.UK website.
Last reviewed / updated: June 2017
This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.
The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.