The 2021 foaling season will see changes to the current practice of freeze branding Standardbred horses.

Microchips, which have been mandated for the past three years, will now become the main form of identification for all standardbred horses, replacing freeze branding.

Microhips to replace freeze branding of Standardbreds in Australia

From 1st September 2021, microhips will replace freeze branding of Standardbreds in Australia. Photo by Linda Zupanc.

Acting Harness Racing Australia (HRA) chairman Ken Brown said in his 2020 annual report that HRA was satisfied that the practice of freeze branding alpha-angle neck brands should be discontinued as the primary means of identifying Standardbred horses in Australia from 1 September 2020.

As a result of these changes, the Queensland Racing and Integrity Commisson (QRIC) has announced it will no longer carry out freeze branding on new foals.

From this season on, QRIC will continue to microchip foals as the primary form of identification for Standardbreds.

Until now, registered Standardbreds have historically been identified via a unique ‘alpha angled’ freeze brand on their neck where each symbol corresponds with a number as shown in the table below;

Australian Standardbred Freeze Branding system

Until 2021, all Australian born and registered Standardbreds were freeze branded using the “alpha angle” symbol system.

Australian Standardbreds were branded with two rows consisting of four symbols in each row. The first line includes the S denoting the horse as a Standardbred, followed by the code for the state in which the horse was born and then the last two digits of its year of birth. The second line denotes its 4 digit registration number.

As from 1/8/87 all freeze brands had an extra symbol added to denote the foal is a Standardbred and the last two digits of the year of foaling were also included, horses that were born prior to this date will have a single line brand with an underscore instead of two lines.

Example of an Australian Standardbred freeze brand

The current Australian freeze brand symbols would read as follows:

Example – S408 0438

Standardbred – S

State Postcode – 4 (Queensland)

Year of Foaling – 04 (2004)

Registered No. – 0438

Postcode codes: 2-New South Wales, 3-Victoria, 4-Queensland, 5-South Australia, 6-Western Australia, 7-Tasmania

New Zealand Standardbred brands follow a slightly different system as per the below table

The brands are usually found on the off (right) side of the horse’s neck and following a three year phase-in which started in 2017, are being replaced with microchips.

Microchips offer a unique and unalterable means of identification for horses. These passive transponders are implanted in the nuchal ligament on the near side (left side) of the neck and remain inactive except when scanned.  The transponder’s circuitry is then energised by a low-power radio signal sent by a compatible scanner. The transponder then sends a unique 15-digit code back to the scanner where it is displayed.

No two microchips are the same, having been pre-assigned and coded during the manufacturing process in accord with ISO and ICAR protocols.

Microchips are the size of a grain of rice and have their electronics assembly hermetically sealed in biocompatible glass with a biostable coating. The coating acts as a tissue interface – so once implanted the horse’s cells readily proliferate on the coated microchip.

If you find a lost horse that you can identify as a Standardbred from either a freezebrand or microchip, please contact the relevant State Controlling Body.

Whilst both microchips and freezebranding are unique identifiers, all registered Standardbreds are also identified via DNA genotyping utilising hair samples to provide parental verification. These hair samples are collected at the sametime as the microchipping implanting and freezebranding before being forwarded to Maxxam Analytics Inc (Canada) for testing.

These identifiers play an important role underpinning the integrity and rigour of the registration processes, Studbook and racing performance.

Article adapted from material sourced from Harness Racing Australia.