Just as one would do forensics, crime scene investigation, and paternity testing in humans, scientists can use the very
same technology on any animal, including horses. There are no aspects of the technology regarding horses that make it any
different. The same genetic markers used in people are widely available for horses, and have been used for about a decade
to do paternity testing in horses for various equine registries. The same type of technology is also used for identification.
Barring a twin, one can analyze DNA markers and come up with an individual identity for a given horse.
In order to run a test, it is fairly common in horses to use plucked or pulled hairs from the mane or tail, rather than a
blood sample. If you pull them correctly, you'll have the "rootbulb" material at the end of the hair. It contains plenty of
DNA. It makes it a lot easier than having to collect a blood sample.
"A veterinarian should take a cluster of no more than five to 10 hairs from the mane or tail, and wrap it around the fingers
with a nice slow pull, not 'yanking' the hairs," Halverson suggests.
The rootbulb material is then sent to the lab for testing.
The downside of DNA testing is that it is not an instantaneous identification system, like other methods such as a microchip
or a visible mark. It takes time to process the sample and obtain the identification information. It can be done on an emergency
basis within a day, but normally it takes a few days to a week to receive the results. Normally, there is no rush for paternity
testing. There is nothing quirky to DNA testing. It is pretty straightforward.
" It is completely tamper - proof ," says Halverson , " Unlike a microchip , you can ' t remove the horse ' s DNA !"
Blood typing for horses was developed a few decades ago and was the technology used for identification and parentage until
DNA-based testing was available. It is still being done in some of the small equine registries.
It is not as specific as DNA, but it is more specific than blood typing for humans (ABO Testing), since there are more blood
types available (A, C, D, K, P, Q, U).
With DNA testing it is easier to add additional markers and get that extra bit of information that can identify closely related
individuals. With blood typing you may have some difficulty in absolute identification when two individuals are closely related.
Once you've done a paternity test, you have generated a genetic profile for three animals (sire, dam and offspring).
With the genotypes of the three animals known, all the genetic material you see in the offspring has to be accounted for in
If you see something in the foal that is not consistent with the parents then you know the parentage is not accurate, or were
incorrectly recorded. If there is a previous DNA test on file, then the identity of a lost or stolen animal can be determined.
Any horse registered with the Jockey Club or Quarter Horse Association is required to be DNA tested.
"As part of a Thoroughbred foal's registration process, we require DNA typing be performed on the foal, to ensure that it
qualifies as the offspring of its reported sire and dam," explains John Cooney, director of communications, The Jockey Club.
"Before we actually issue registration papers, a certificate of foal registration, the DNA typing of the foal has to check
For additional information on DNA-based testing, log onto
Iris and retinal scanning
Another technology that is cutting-edge is iris and retinal scanning.
It was recently discussed (NIAA, 2002 Proceedings) as plausible for equine identification.
Iris scan biometrics (now in use for people) employs the unique characteristics and features of the equine iris in order to
verify the identity of an individual.
The iris-scan process begins with a photograph. A specialized camera, typically very close to the subject, uses an infrared
imager to illuminate the eye and capture a very high-resolution photograph.