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USDA Utilizing Iris Scans in Horse Protection Program 

April, 2013

images-38USDA Horse Protection Program Utilizing Iris Scan Technology for Equine Identification

APHIS’ Horse Protection program has a new technological tool that will allow its inspectors to better identify horses before they enter the inspection area. Beginning in March 2013, APHIS will be using iris scanners as part of the agency’s continued efforts to put an end to horse soring through its enforcement of the Horse Protection Act.

The Horse Protection Act is a federal law that prohibits sored horses from participating in shows, sales, exhibitions or auctions. The Act also prohibits drivers from transporting sored horses to or from any of these events. Soring is a cruel and inhumane practice used to accentuate a horse’s gait; it may be accomplished by irritating or blistering a horse’s forelegs through the application of chemicals or mechanical devices. Walking horses are known for possessing a naturally high gait, but in order to be successful in competition; their natural gait is often exaggerated. The exaggerated gait can be achieved with proper training and considerable time. However, some exhibitors, owners and trainers have chosen to use improper training methods to shorten the time it would take to produce a higher gait in their horses.

APHIS works actively with the horse industry to protect against soring and to ensure that only sound and healthy horses participate in shows.

Questions and Answers

APHIS’ ultimate goal is to end this inhumane practice completely.

Question: Why is APHIS using iris scans when there are already other means in place to identify horses?

Answer: Scanning a horse’s iris is a pain-free, non-invasive alternative to branding, tattooing and other identification methods. It limits undue stress to the animal.

Q: What are the benefits to this particular method of identifying horses?

A: These scanners will allow APHIS to establish a definitive identity of a horse because no two irises are alike. Iris scans are more accurate than even a human fingerprint. Plus, an iris scan is a totally non-invasive means of identifying a horse – unlike micro- chipping or tattooing.

Iris scans also tell APHIS whether or not a particular horse has ever been sored before because the scanners maintain an information database that includes any previous Horse Protection Act violations. This provides a much better tracking system for APHIS – and the industry – than what is currently in place.

Q: How does the scanner work?

A: These scanners will produce a digital photograph of the iris of a horse’s eye. The photographs, along with other information about each horse, are stored electronically in the scanner’s processor.

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