In 2017 Harness Racing Australia (HRA) announced that it would begin microchipping Standardbred foals born from the 2017/18 crop onwards. Part of that announcement was a planned review of the microchipping and freezebranding process after 3 years.
This review of microchipping was undertaken in 2020 and with no major issues or concerns reported across the 3-year period the HRA Executive determined that the microchip would replace the freezebrand as the primary means of identifying Standardbreds in Australia. As a result most States have now ceased applying the alpha angle neck freezebrand to horses.
The freezebrand will continue to be used as an identifier for horses born prior to the 2017/18 season but exciting developments in technology will aim utilize the full potential of microchips for both race day integrity functions as well as day-to-day stable management tasks.
The first stage of this technology was showcased at the Blacks a Fake race meeting at Albion Park with RISE Racing demonstrating a new Steward’s Portal as well as boosted mobile HarnessWeb capabilities for participants using Bluetooth enabled microchip scanners.
The OnTrack Stewards’ Portal is now being utilized by Stewards and integrity staff across Australia with the HarnessWeb capabilities for participants also ready for release. Continuous expansions to the capabilities of both systems are planned as the microchipped horse population expands.
Frequently Asked Microchip Questions
What microchips are used by HRA and how do they work?
Microchips are around the size of a grain of rice and use a radio-frequency identification implant that does not have a battery or transmit a signal. The microchip is located by using a microchip scanner which generates an electromagnetic field that energizes the microchip to transmit the microchip’s identification number back to the scanner.
The original HRA approved microchip is the LifeChip®, which is manufactured by Destron Fearing™ and distributed in Australia by Digivet. This microchip was used in the initial 3 Australian microchipped foal crops but has since been superseded by the BioThermo LifeChip®, which is an almost identical microchip but with one added feature. The BioThermo technology built into the microchip allows you to not only scan with a microchip reader to identify the horse, but certain readers will also display the horse's body temperature as well.
In some circumstances (such as imported horses) a non HRA issued microchip can be implanted so long as it meets the strict ISO standards listed in the HRA Microchipping Regulations document.
What do other countries do?
Since HRA’s 2017 announcement on microchipping both the USA and NZ Standardbred industries have followed suit. In New Zealand a similar but shorter ‘foal crop by foal crop model’ was employed, with the 2020/21 season’s New Zealand-bred foals receiving both a freezebrand and microchip but freezebranding ceased as of 1 August 2021.
In the USA, the USTA began a retrospective microchipping program for their entire Standardbred herd in 2019 with a view to all horses being microchipped by 2022.
In Europe, Standardbreds are not freezebranded and the microchip has been the primary identifier of Standardbreds for several years now.
Is there an additional fee to microchip my horse?
The process varies from State to State however in most States there is no additional fee for horses microchipped as part of that year’s foal crop by the State Controlling Body’s regulatory vets/technicians. If a horse needs to be microchipped outside of these circumstances or by a private veterinarian then those providers will likely charge fees.
Will all horses need to be microchipped? What if they are imported?
ALL Standardbred horses racing or breeding in Australia that are born after 1 September 2017 MUST be microchipped as per the HRA regulations. Horses imported from overseas will, in most cases, already be microchipped and that information will be listed on their Clearance Certificate into Australia. If they do not have a microchip upon arriving in Australia and are born on 1 September 2017 or later then they must be microchipped prior to racing, trialing, or breeding here.
What if I want my horse freeze branded instead?
Whilst not necessary or required by the Australian Trotting Studbook, if studs or breeders wish to freezebrand their stock with their stud brand this is still permitted (at their own expense). The alpha angle freezebrand on the neck has been discontinued in most States since the 2020/21 breeding season (even earlier in some States). Regardless of any brands the horse must still have a microchip as well because the microchip is the primary unique identifier required for Studbook registration.
When will my foal be microchipped and DNA sampled? How do I get that done and what is the turnaround time?
In most States the Microchipping and DNA sampling of new season foals are completed at the same time and the process is very similar to the previous freeze branding and DNA sampling process.
For older horses that have not been microchipped (such as some imports) you will need to liaise with the Registrar in your State to arrange either a regulatory or private veterinarian to microchip your horse (and take a DNA sample if necessary). A private Veterinarian may be able to microchip the horse earlier than a regulatory vet however fees may apply if a private Vet is used. A horse is not deemed eligible for inclusion in the Studbook until it is microchipped and DNA verified in accordance with HRA regulations
Are there concerns with the microchip moving around after implant?
Unlike dogs or cats which are implanted under the skin a microchip implanted in a horse must be in the nuchal ligament of the neck which, when inserted properly, has been shown (in scientific, peer reviewed studies) to be far less prone to movement.
The microchips used by HRA also have a patented Bio-Bond® process. The microchips are encased in a micro-capsule made of bio-compatible material. The Bio-Bond® enables the animal's tissue to permanently anchor the microchip at the desired anatomical site.
Where do I look to see if my horse has a microchip number already and where is it implanted?
You can look up your horse in HarnessWeb or on harness.org by name or certificate number to see the microchip number that has been assigned to your horse. The microchip is implanted on the left side of the horse's neck, in the nuchal ligament, mid-way from the poll to the withers.
Can a microchip be tampered with?
The microchip is implanted deep in the nuchal ligament and the body creates a capsule of tissue around the chip. Tampering, removing or altering microchips inside a horse would require surgery that would involve recovery time and would likely leave a fairly evident scar. Microchip manufacturing and handling is done under strict protocols to ensure numbers cannot be duplicated and special readers can detect non HRA approved microchips in any instance where there is concern regarding tampering or counterfeit microchips and numbers.
How do I identify a horse with no freezebrand?
A microchip reader is required to read the microchip in the horse itself. Online search capabilities have recently been upgraded so that when you are searching for a horse by its microchip number in both HarnessWeb and harness.org it requires only the last 8 digits of the microchip to be entered. This is the same number of digits as is currently required to look up a brand, only there is no translation required with microchips.
How can I purchase a microchip reader?
A standard microchip reader can be purchased online for less than $100. The Halo brand reader is very affordable and is widely used by industry vets and breeders however there are many brands available. Bluetooth compatible readers are more expensive but certain brands can work directly with HarnessWeb. RISE is conducting testing with several brands of Bluetooth enabled microchip scanners and hopes to have a variety of compatible options but currently the SmartScan Z1001 Multichip Reader is the recommended Bluetooth compatible device. This scanner can be purchased for around $600. HRA have negotiated an industry discount code for this scanner when purchased from the Australian distributors, 4tags, go to https://4tags.com.au/shop/smartscan-z1001-multichip-reader/ and simply type RISE20 into the discount code section at checkout for 20% off.
It is also worth noting that if you have an ABN then the purchase of this device can be claimed as a tax deduction.
What is the difference between a Bluetooth compatible and a standard microchip reader?
A standard reader will read the horse’s microchip and display the number on its screen. Some will also display the horse’s temperature (if they are implanted with a BioThermo chip). From there it can be read and matched manually to the microchip listed on the horse’s RAC, on HarnessWeb, in the harness.org.au Horse Search function or other documentation.
A Bluetooth compatible reader will not only display the microchip number on the screen of the device itself it will also communicate with your smart phone or tablet device (iPad etc) via Bluetooth. A world leading upgrade to the mobile version of HarnessWeb has just been launched which will automatically open the profile of the horse which has been scanned with one of these readers, displaying the horse's basic information (name, breeding, year of foaling, color, sex, etc.) on your phone without the need to type any numbers in. From there you can complete gear changes, nominations, transfers, status updates and more.
What if I have bad internet where I am?
In much the same way as people now look up a horse’s brand symbols and the corresponding numbers prior to checking them on the horse itself, a horse’s microchip number can be looked up and manually recorded in advance in an area with good service. The microchip scanners themselves do not require internet in order to read and display the microchip number so it is also completely possible to scan and note down (or take a photo of the scanner screen with your phone) the microchip numbers out in the paddock then enter them into a device elsewhere later on. The microchip number will also be listed on the horse’s RAC which is a physical piece of paper that can easily be brought to the horse’s location and the scanned microchip number can be cross referenced from there.
How will the microchip be used on race day?
Integrity staff in each State have already begun using standard microchip readers in conjunction with the use of the freeze brand in their day-to-day integrity and horse identifying tasks, both on course and during stable inspections. As more microchipped horse make their way into the racing population (the earliest crop of microchipped and branded Standardbreds are currently 4yo) the reliance on the microchip as the primary unique identifier will increase as the transition away from the freezebrand occurs.
An online steward’s portal named OnTrack has recently been developed by RISE. This world leading technology now provides an even faster way to identify horses in a range of situations, including tracking and time stamping arrivals and departures on-course, swabbing, vet examinations, parade ring movements and more. Its direct integration with the HRA database and HarnessWeb allows users to definitively identify horses at a glance.
What are the benefits of microchips?
There are multiple reasons that microchips are a superior means of identification. Here are a few: