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Chapter 2 - Identification
2.2 Identification of horses

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This section discusses the physical description of horses as official identification tags are not used in this species. Clear, uniform, and accurate descriptions of their physical attributes are required.

Horse identification

Traditional descriptive identification

Documents identifying a horse for test or for export certification require an accurate diagram of the horse paired with an accurate written (i.e. narrative) description. In addition to brands or tattoos that the horse may bear, look for and identify any unique distinguishing marks such as white markings, hair patterns, color variations or scars. This is particularly important for horses who do not have  any obvious distinctive markings on the head, body or limbs.

Identification methods and descriptive nomenclature for colouring and markings is described in Section 3 of Equine Information Document (EID) guidance. While this information relates to the identification of equines for the purpose of documenting the medical history of horses presented for slaughter, it is consistent with the Accredited Veterinarian Program's identification expectations for the purposes of testing and export certification. Accredited veterinarians are expected to read this information and apply the guidance therein when performing their accredited duties unless otherwise stated in this module. For example, while the EID guidance specifically requires the use of black ink for written descriptions and non-white markings, modules 5.5 (Export of Horses to the US) and 8.4 (Equine Infectious Anemia [EIA]) of this manual indicate that while black ink is preferable, blue ink is also acceptable provided it is clear and legible.

The language used in the written description must also meet the requirements of the importing country (For example, English for export to the US). Date formats to be used will be specified on the individual certificate or form. Age may be specified by the exact birth date (if known and in the format listed) or the birth year if the exact date is not known. It is not generally accepted to list the age of the horse in year or months.

Special attention should be paid to the anatomical nomenclature used in the Section 3 of Equine Information Document (EID) guidance document. These terms must be used for all written descriptions, rather than colloquial or common terms such as "sock" or "stocking". There are also detailed sections related to whorls and other "peculiarities" that may be observed in individual animals. These are particularly important when dealing with horses with few or no distinctive white or acquired markings as they may be the only means to provide accurate identification of the animal.

Lastly, color descriptions can vary between countries with sub variations within color category noted in some instances (For example, Bay, Bay-Brown, Dark Bay, Light Bay, etc). Due to this variability, a summary of common color descriptions used in North America is provided Section 3 of Equine Information Document (EID) guidance document.

Digital photographs

Some forms allow for the use of digital photographs to be used in lieu of the drawing/ diagram. In these cases, the accredited veterinarian must ensure that the digital photographs are of good quality by taking into consideration lighting conditions, cleanliness, image resolution, proper positioning of the equine and the absence of objects that could obstruct the animal (for example, saddle, blanket, structures). The only animal that should be visible in the photograph is the one being tested/ inspected.

The only exceptions to this would be if other animals are partially visible in the distant background, or if a foal is with its mare. In the latter case, the animal being tested / inspected must not be obstructed by the other. Every effort should be made to exclude human handlers from the photograph.

Getting good quality photographs is usually possible although sometimes it can be challenging due to the animal's temperament and/or the environmental conditions. It's recommended that when it's known that photographs need to be taken at an upcoming appointment, the veterinary practice notify clients of the need to have the animal adequately cleaned so that their markings are visible and that they are located in an area with sufficient lighting. If it is known that an equine will not allow for proper photographs to be taken during the appointment, it's possible to ask the owner to take their own photographs, send them to the veterinary practice, and have the practice upload them onto the digital platform.

The photographs must conform with the requirements listed in this module and the accredited veterinarian must be able to confirm that the submitted images match the animal at the time of sampling / inspection.

All white markings need to be visible on the digital photographs, and the full length of all appendages needs to appear in the photographs. For frontal photographs, if the only markings are on the head, the photograph can be limited to the head. If there are white markings on the front legs, the full length of the legs must be included in the frontal photographs. All descriptor fields are required to be filled. Please use "N/A" or "None" if appropriate. If a digital submission system is used for equines with very detailed markings (for example, Appaloosas), written descriptions of the white markings are not required and "N/A" can be used in the descriptor fields.

It is the responsibility of the accredited veterinarian to ensure that the digital photographs are representative of the animal's appearance at the time of sampling / inspection. Failure to produce good quality photographs may result in the digital certificate being rejected by an inspector. If needed, please reach out to the digital service provider for tips on how to get the best photographs.

Acquired markings

An acquired mark may be anything distinctive that is a result of an extrinsic factor(s). Common examples include brands (freeze or hot iron), scars, cryo therapy marks, tattoos, etc. Acquired marks must be described in the appropriate section of the written description and also properly indicated on the drawing or photographs. For example, where cryo marks or a freeze brand results in the overlying hair being white, the mark is indicated in red ink as for any white marking. For markings that also serve as a unique animal identifier (for example, a numbered freeze brand specifically registered to one animal), these may also be indicated in any such field of the test form or certificate. A mark that is not unique to one animal (for example, a farm's brand that is used on more than one animal) is only indicated as an acquired mark.

Microchips/ electronic implants

While microchip implants are frequently used in many species of animals, the usefulness of this means of identification is limited to those applications where the animal is accessible for a reading to be conducted and a compatible microchip reading device is available. For these reasons more traditional means of equine identification are currently in use at ports of entry into Canada. Microchips do have usefulness in domestic applications, particularly when combined with other form of identification in horses. As more options become available and technology improves, this method of identification for equines may play a larger role in the future.

Other considerations

Drawings or digital photographs on test and export certificates must match, and the written descriptions must agree with drawings and digital photographs. Additional numbered ID may be required under certain circumstances. See 5.5 Export to the United States-Horses and 6.2 Export to Mexico-Horses for more detail. If an error is found after the form has been authorized (i.e. signed), a new form should be created with the correct information. It should be noted that this may also require the collection and submission of a new blood sample, so all efforts to verify that forms have been completed correctly and accurately should be made before they are submitted.

Note: Situations may arise where a previously completed and valid form does not match the current appearance or description of a horse. Examples include, acquired marks such as scars or cryo therapy marks appearing after the time of form completion (EIA test certificates are valid for 180 days), the gelding of a horse previously described as a stallion, etc. Accredited veterinarians must obtain sufficient information and documentation (if available) to support the rationale for the discrepancy in appearance and consult with the CFIA District Veterinarian on the best approach for certification.

Descriptions of colours and markings



When black pigment is general throughout the coat, limbs, mane and tail, with no pattern factor present other than white markings.


When there is a mixture of black and brown pigment in the coat, with black limbs, mane and tail.


When the predominate colour is brown, with muzzle bay, black limbs, mane and tail.


Bay varies considerably in shade from dull red approaching brown, to a yellowish colour approaching chestnut, but it can be distinguished from the chestnut by the fact that the bay has a black mane and tail and almost invariably has black on the limbs and tips of the ears.


This colour consists of yellow-coloured hair in different degrees of intensity, which may be noted if thought desirable. A "true" chestnut has a chestnut mane and tail which may be lighter or darker than the body colour. Lighter coloured chestnut may have flaxen mane and tail. The sorrel colour must be reported under that name.


When the body coat is a varying mosaic of black and white hair, with black skin. With advancing age, the coat grows lighter in colour. The flea-bitten grey may contain three colours or the two basic colours and should be so described. A pure white is exceptional.


This description is sometimes used for a grey horse with black mane and tail.

Blue roan:

When the body colour is black or black-brown, with a mixture of white hair, which gives a blue tinge to the coat. On the limbs from the knees and hocks down, the black hair usually predominates.

Bay roan:

When the body colour is bay or bay-brown, with an admixture of white hair, which gives a reddish tinge to the coat. On the limbs from the knees and hocks down the black hairs usually predominate.

Strawberry/ Chestnut Roan:

When the body colour is chestnut with an admixture of white hairs.

Blue dun:

The body colour is a dilute black evenly distributed. The mane and tail are black. There may or may not be a dorsal band (list) and/or withers stripe. The skin is black.

Yellow dun:

There is a diffuse yellow pigment in the hair. The mane and tail are black. There may or may not be a dorsal band (list) and/or withers stripe and bars on the legs. The striping is usually associated with black pigment on the head and limbs. The skin is black.


The body coat consists of large irregular patches of black and white. The line of demarcation between the two colours is generally well defined.


The body consists of large irregular patches of white and of any definite colour except black. The line of demarcation between the colours is generally well-defined.

Odd coloured:

The body coat consists of large irregular patches of more than two colours, which may merge into each other at the edges of the patches.


The body coat is of a cream colour, with black mane and tail.


The body coat is of a cream colour, with nonpigmented skin. The iris is deficient in pigment and is often devoid of it, giving the eye a pinkish or bluish appearance.


The body coat is a newly-minted gold coin colour (lighter or darker shades are permissible) with a white mane and tail.


Body colour is grey, covered with a mosaic of black or brown spots.

Unique markings

Withers stripe:

Zebra band across the withers.


A dorsal band of black hair which extends from the withers backwards to the base of the tail.

White marks

The characteristics of all white marks must be described:

A white mark can be regular or irregular. It can be mixed with the hair of the coat, completely or in part, or at the edge. It can be bordered, a band of black skin shows under the white hair at the edge of the mark (the area appears bluish).


The description should begin at the forehead, followed by the nasal bone, the muzzle, lips and chin.


Any white mark on the forehead. Size, shape, intensity, position and coloured markings (if any) on the white to be specified. Should the markings in the region of the centre of the forehead consist of a few white hairs only, it should be so described and not referred to as a star.


The narrow white marking down the face not wider than the flat anterior surface of the nasal bones. In many cases, the star and stripe are continuous and should be described as star and stripe connected. When the stripe is separate and distinct from the star it should be described as interrupted stripe. When no star is present the point of origin of the stripe should be indicated. The termination of the stripe and any variation in breadth, direction and any markings on the white should be so stated, e.g. broad stripe, narrow stripe, inclined to left, etc. Any markings on the white should be stated.


A white marking covering almost the whole of the forehead between the eyes and extending beyond the width of the nasal bones and usually to the muzzle. Any variations in direction, termination and any markings on the white should be stated.

White face:

When the white covers the forehead and front of the face, extending laterally towards the mouth. The extension may be unilateral or bilateral, in which case it should be described accordingly.


An isolated white marking, independent of those already named, and situated between or in the region of the nostrils. Its size, position and intensity should be specified. When a snip is connected with a stripe it should be recorded as such, e.g. star, stripe connected snip.

Flesh mark:

Lack of pigmentation. A flesh mark is described as such and not as a white mark. Black spots within the flesh mark are to be indicated. All lip markings, whether flesh marks or white marks, should be accurately described.

White muzzle:

When the white embraces both lips and extends to the region of the nostrils.


All white markings on the limbs must be accurately defined and the upper limit precisely stated with reference to points of the anatomy, e.g. white to mid-pastern, white to upper third of cannon. The use of such terms as "sock" or "stocking" are not acceptable. The exact location must be specified, examples are listed below:


  • White coronet; white pastern; white fetlock; white to knee; white to hock; white to hind quarter;
  • White patch on coronet (anterior, lateral, medial, posterior);
  • White ring around limb: does not extend down to the coronet.

The presence of coloured spots in white marks should be recorded. Black spots in a white coronet are referred to as ermine marks.


Whorls or cowlicks are changes in the hair pattern, and may take various forms simple, tufted, feathered or sinuous. Their position must be clearly specified.

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