Horse identification and control
If you own or keep a horse or similar animal, it must be microchipped and must have an official identification document, known as a horse passport – see ‘Horse identification’ below.
These requirements are under EU Regulation 504/2008 which, along with later amendments, has been transposed into Irish law. They apply to all members of the horse family, including ponies, donkeys and crosses, officially known as equine animals but referred to here, for clarity, as horses.
In addition, if you keep the horse in a control area designated under the Control of Horses Act 1996, you must have a horse licence for it as well as the microchip and passport – see ‘Control of horses’ below.
You are liable for any injury or damage caused by your horse to other people or to property.
There are 3 parts to the identification system for horses:
- An equine (horse) passport, which is valid for the horse’s lifetime
- A microchip implant, which links the animal to the passport
- A Unique Equine Life Number (UELN)
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has approved a number of organisations for the purposes of issuing identity documents for horses and maintaining approved databases. The list of these issuing bodies is published on the Department’s website.
As well as enabling the identity of an animal to be proved, the passport contains a declaration of whether or not the horse is intended for human consumption. This declaration must be signed if the horse is being given certain types of medication that render it unsuitable for the human food chain. The owner can also choose to sign this declaration voluntarily.
Any horse that is born in the State must have a passport before 31 December of the year of birth, or within 6 months of the date of birth, whichever is later. So a horse born in May, for example, must have a passport by 31 December of that year. A horse born in October must have a passport within 6 months – by April of the following year.
In general, if a foal is leaving the holding where it was born, it must first be microchipped (see below) and issued with a passport. However, if it is under 6 months old, is not yet weaned and is accompanied by its dam or foster mare, it does not need a passport.
Any horse being imported into the State from another EU state must be accompanied by a valid passport. A horse being imported from outside the EU may also already have a passport. You must register the horse’s foreign passport with the appropriate Irish issuing body within 30 days.
If the horse is being imported from outside the EU and does not have a passport, you must apply to the appropriate Irish issuing body for a passport within 30 days.
The passport must accompany the horse whenever it is being moved, whether inside the State or to somewhere else. In addition, under the Equidae (Change of Ownership) Regulations 2016, when a horse changes hands, the new owner must be given the passport and must register the change of ownership with the appropriate issuing body.
When a horse dies, you should return its passport to the issuing body so that its details on the database can be updated. If the horse has been slaughtered, the slaughter plant will note this on the passport, which will eventually go back to the issuing body.
Microchipping and numbering
In general, all horses must be microchipped. However, any horse that already had a passport on 1 July 2009 does not need to have a microchip inserted.
The passport issuing bodies supply the microchips, which must be implanted by a veterinary practitioner (a vet). The information on the microchip is linked to the horse’s passport and to the details registered on the issuing body’s database.
The horse’s Unique Equine Life Number (UELN) appears on its passport and identifies it with the issuing body.
Control of horses
The Control of Horses Act 1996 allows local authorities to introduce bye-laws designating certain areas as control areas for horses. (The term "horse" under the Act covers horses, donkeys and mules.) When the local authority is making such bye-laws, it must follow certain procedures, including giving details of the proposed control areas in local newspapers.
If you are living in a designated control area, you need a licence in order to have a horse. A licence normally lasts for a year. The local authority keeps a publicly available register of all licences issued.
When applying for a licence, you must satisfy the local authority that you are a fit person to keep a horse and that the horse will be properly maintained and stabled. If a person under 16 owns a horse, the head of the household in which they live is considered to be the owner, as horses may not be sold to anyone under 16 years of age.
Anyone permitted to have a horse in a public place must ensure that it is wearing a bridle and is under adequate control. It is illegal to allow a horse to graze, feed, stray or remain in a public place without the consent of the local authority.
If you wish to ride your horse on a public road, you may do so provided that the horse has a licence and is fitted with a bridle. It should also be under the control of someone over 16 years of age.
Inspection and offences
The Gardaí or staff authorised by the local authority may decide to inspect your horse and you must allow them to do this. They can also ask you to produce evidence of a horse licence. They have fairly extensive powers of search and arrest if they suspect cruelty to horses.
The legislation specifies several offences, including failure to remove a horse from a public place or control area and dangerous use of a horse. You may be arrested without warrant for most of these offences. If convicted, you may be fined or imprisoned (or both) and you may be disqualified from keeping a horse for a period. The court may seize the horse and dispose of it as it sees fit.
As well as unlicensed horses in control areas, stray or unidentifiable horses or horses causing a nuisance or posing a danger may be seized, detained or destroyed. If your horse has been found wandering 3 times within a 12-month period, it can be seized and you will not get it back.
To have a horse registered, microchipped and issued with a passport, you will need to pay fees to the approved passport issuing body and to the vet who implants the microchip. There may also be additional costs for DNA testing etc.
Check your local authority’s website for details of its charges for horse licences and for reclaiming a seized horse.
How to apply
To arrange to have a horse registered, microchipped and issued with a passport, contact the relevant approved passport issuing body.
To apply for a horse licence, contact your local authority.
For further information on horse registration and passports, contact the relevant approved passport issuing body or the Department’s Animal Identification and Movement Division at: