Horse Theft!

Print this page    
Horse theft has been taking place here ever since horses first set hoof on Australian soil….even bushrangers like Ned Kelly regularly helped themselves to other peoples’ horses!

Think it can’t happen to you? Think again! Unfortunately horse (and other livestock) theft is on the rise…visit any horse forum or Facebook page regularly and you’ll come across a plea for help recovering stolen horses.

Why do people steal horses?

The main reason is cash…the horse can quickly be sold at sale yards and the thief gets away scot-free. Thieves can be either ‘professional’ or impulsively deciding to help themselves after spotting an easy target.

Professional thieves usually have a horsey background and steal selectively. They drive around during the day canvassing their targets, then return at night, cut wire fencing, load the horse in a float and are gone, their getaway having been carefully planned.

Thieves target horses on agistment or in paddocks that aren’t well supervised or where the owner doesn’t live on the property.

Horses are fairly easy to dispose of at livestock saleyards in rural areas, which are often not policed. A lot of stolen rufs and saddler are also off-loaded through sale yards, with thieves usually working in one area, then moving on to another.

What happens to stolen horses? Unfortunately some do end up going cheaply for meat, but others are sold as riding mounts and often get re-sold several times which makes them difficult to trace. Thieves are only interested in a short-term profit and don't really care about where the horse ends up.

Horses don't only get stolen from paddocks...some are leased to what seem like legitimate people and end up being sold on and unable to be traced. The person leasing the horse can also move and leave no forwarding address.

A Standardbred freeze brand. A Standardbred freeze brand.


This is the number one deterrent for horse thieves...if your horse has some kind of visible brand, chances are he won't be targeted although some thieves will try to alter brands. Don't think your horse is unique and easily identifiable...he or she may be to you but would a non-horsey person be able to distinguish subtle differences between horses? You might own an unbranded 15hh bay mare with two white socks and a couple of leg scars...but so do thousands of other Australians! 

Hot iron branding

Many horses carry some kind of hot iron brand, which is where a symbol or series of numbers are applied to the horse using hot irons, leaving the area permanently hairless. Studs have their own brand and most thoroughbreds are also branded. This visible means of horse marking provides legal identification. 

Freeze branding

Freeze branding has been used since the 1960's and the markings last the horse's lifetime. It's the process of using a super-cold branding iron to alter the colour pigment-producing cells. The result is that white hair, instead of coloured hair, grows at the brand site. Most Standardbreds have freeze brands on the off-side of their necks, with the International Alpha Angle System, which incorporates info about the horse such as his year of birth and registration number. 

Microchipping: This is an invisible means of identification, so won't act as much of a deterrent, but is still a means of legally identifying your horse and is also now accepted by many Australian breed societies. The chip is encased in a glass bead the size of a grain of rice and implanted by a vet in the nuchal ligament of the horse's neck, which runs along the crest from the ears to the withers. Once it's been implanted, it's not visible to the naked eye. The chip contains information and can be read by a special scanner with records kept at a central base.

Thieves target horses on agistment or in paddocks that aren’t well supervised or where the owner doesn’t live on the property. Thieves target horses on agistment or in paddocks that aren’t well supervised or where the owner doesn’t live on the property.

How to deter horse theft

• Make sure your horse has some kind of ID brand or is at least microchipped. 

• Lock your paddock gates with strong padlocks and chains and also lock the hinge side of gates so they can't be opened this way. (Make sure the keys are accessible in the event of a fire or other emergency.) 

• Network with your neighbours and keep an eye on each others' property and horses. 

• Don't leave halters on horses as this makes it easier for thieves! 

• Install security lighting around stable areas. 

• A barking dog or other 'noisy' animals such as geese or peacocks on the property will deter would-be thieves and also alert you to any activity. 

• Change your routines often, eg check your horse at different times during the day. 

• Don't ever sell a horse and allow it to go off your property until cheques have cleared and if leasing, make sure you get a signed lease agreement and do a thorough background check on the potential lessee. 

• Don't leave horse floats in or near your horse's paddock which could be used to transport your stolen horse! 

• Post 'No Trespassing' signs on your property and fencing. 

• Try to locate your paddock away from busy roads or plant some trees to block view.

Make your own ID chart. Make your own ID chart.


• Report it immediately to the police who will contact the Livestock Squad. The first 24-48 hours are critical. 

• Have an up to date horse ID chart ready plus recent photos of your horse. 

• Use your own contacts and ring around, eg. local Pony Clubs, saleyards, horsey friends, vets, farriers, local radio stations and councils (check their pound).

• Check online horse classifieds. 

• Put up notices at as many feed stores/saddleries as you can. 

• Place an ad in the Lost and Found section of your local/regional newspaper. 

• Alert livestock saleyards and knackeries and check them regularly. 

• Post on horsey Australian internet forums. 

• Post on Facebook, along with a good quality recent photo of your horse, and ask your friends to ‘share’ it around.

• Put flyers up in your area on lamp-posts, at intersections, local shops, libraries, vets, etc. 

• Hand out flyers at nearby horse events and shows. 

Keep a file on your horse that contains proof of ownership (sale receipt or lease agreement) and a copy of any breed registration papers. Make an identification sheet for your horse and keep it updated. The chart should include information such as the horse’s name, gender, breed, body colour, mane and tail colour, health conditions, behavior problems, conformation features, your full contact details (address, phone numbers, email address), your vet’s name and good quality, recent photos of your horse. Have several copies of your horse’s identification sheet ready to hand to local police and the Livestock Squad. Describe your horse so that a non-horsey person would have no difficulty identifying him. Include details such as scars and hair whorls (usually found on the forehead, neck and flank areas). 
 Never give up! One stolen horse was located at a rodeo SEVEN YEARS after being stolen!

Share |

 Send to a friend

Your name

Your Email Address

Your Friends Name

Your Friends Email