Hot branding, freeze marking and microchipping

Three main ways to identify your horse or pony


From October 2020, microchipping will be a legal requirement for all horses, ponies and donkeys.

The new Central Equine Database will then allow local authorities and police to track down the owners of abandoned horses. This is to make sure owners are penalised and the animals are given the care they deserve. It will also mean lost or stolen horses will be reunited with their owners more easily.

Microchipping provides a guarantee of identity. Microchip implantation isn't pain-free but does appear to inflict less pain and suffering than hot branding or freeze marking.

Freeze marking

Involves a cold branding iron being held on the skin for 7-10 seconds in dark horses to make a white mark, or 12-15 in lighter horses to destroy the hair growth follicles and make a bald mark. Freeze marking may deter the theft of horses and ponies, which can lead to neglect, poor welfare and slaughter, but it can cause significant suffering.

Hot branding

Involves the application of a very hot iron to the skin for several seconds or until the hide turns a light tan colour. This causes significant pain and suffering - more than freeze marking or microchipping. We believe that this pain and suffering is unnecessary because there are effective alternative means of identification available which cause less suffering.

Identifying your horse or pony

Owners of horses and ponies should have their equine microchipped as this is likely to be the least painful method of permanent identification of equines.

If you're concerned about the possibility of theft, you may consider freeze marking, but should be aware that it causes some pain and suffering.


If you own a horse or a pony, or you are its main keeper then you are responsible for making sure they have an up-to-date passport to identify them.  More information on horse passports can be found at DEFRA.

More information

Moorland ponies

We believe that moorland ponies should not be hot branded. Instead, they should be fitted with a microchip as this provides a guarantee of identity which is more reliable than hot branding. Freeze marking is often not suitable for moorland ponies that cannot be held still for long enough.

Owners of moorland ponies should have them microchipped and use a collar with a permanent numerical, alphabetical or symbolic marking if they require visible identification.

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