Microchipping Your Horse - How and Why To Do It

horse running in pasture


In 2004, the U.S. Department of Agriculture instituted a program of mass livestock identification using microchips, tattooing and branding in an effort to identify and track sick animals in the event of a disease outbreak. Nationwide, ranchers and farmers objected to the program, called the National Animal Identification Program, seeing it as an attempt of the government to monitor and control the horse and cattle industry.

The USDA disbanded the program in February, 2010, but many horse owners continue to microchip their animals as protection against theft and loss. Since horses are considered livestock, you don’t need a veterinary prescription to purchase a microchip online or from your vet, and you can microchip your horse at home.

Place your horse in cross ties, or tie it to a fence or stall with a halter and lead rope. If your horse is particularly spooky, or just objects to being inoculated, have a helper hold the lead rope and be prepared to circle around with your horse to complete the injection.

Take the microchip syringe from its protective packet and remove the needle cap, making sure not to touch anything with the needle tip. Hold the needle straight up in the air to keep it from getting contaminated or accidentally sticking someone else prior to injecting the microchip into your horse.

Because the bore of the microchip needle is larger than needles used for medication, you may want to disinfect the injection site with alcohol before administering the microchip to your horse.

Stand on the left side of your horse and place your non-dominant hand on the middle of the neck’s crest, feeling for the nuchal ligament -- the tough, muscular tissue running just underneath the mane from poll to withers. If the mane falls on the left side, move it over to the right to get it out of your way.

Place the needle and syringe on a parallel line with your horse’s mane about 1-inch below the nuchal ligament, and thrust the needle quickly under the first layer of skin. Push the needle into the horse’s neck until the syringe touches the skin. You should be able to see the outline of the needle under the first skin layer.

Press down on the syringe’s plunger to release the microchip and pull the needle out of your horse’s neck. Hold your thumb or a cotton ball over the injection site to stop any bleeding. Replace the needle cap and safely dispose of the syringe in a sharps container or an old coffee can.

Keep a copy of the microchip number with your important papers so that you can take it with you in case of a natural disaster or emergency.  Leave a copy with your veterinarian for safekeeping and pack a copy in your equine first aid kit and your trailer.

Make a note or a drawing of the injection site on your horse’s neck for reference in case of emergency. Microchips injected in the nuchal ligament do not migrate, so keeping accurate records can help you locate the chip when necessary.