Director’s Chair

by Joe Faraldo, USTA Chairman of the Board

Stand by Your Brand; It’s Your Choice

The USTA’s job is to provide an ID to ensure integrity of the breed

It’s amazing that something as non-controversial as microchipping has been made somewhat controversial.

In 2010, the current microchipping rule was passed after each USTA district considered whether this far superior identification device should be mandatory as a more accurate form of identifying individual horses. That was fully vetted back then. The rule’s implementation, however, was wisely delayed until some uniformity with other horse breeds and livestock could be achieved. Finally, the date for implementation has arrived, placing the USTA in line with other breed registries worldwide. No one can disagree that the microchip is the gold standard of identification when compared to night eyes, lip tattoos, freeze brands and other past methods of identification, like markings.

Though some have argued that the microchip is faulty and subject to removal, consider that the microchip is the size of a grain of rice, is inserted into a ligament in an area four inches by four inches, is not subcutaneously inserted (therefore not easily removable), and does not migrate on its own.

While USTA microchipping is mandatory, freeze branding remains a secondary identification option still available to owners and breeders who want to employ it as their valued means of identification. Standardbred Canada, which did not employ freeze branding, has recently adopted a protocol similar to that of the USTA, making freeze branding optional in Canada.

The additional cost to USTA members who elect to brand is $40. Standardbred Canada is ready to charge $130 if one wants to exercise that option. Every breeder, big and small, and every owner so inclined has the branding option, either upon registration or thereafter. It has not been removed from anyone’s choice.

Still, some are demanding that the USTA mandate freeze branding, at an additional cost to all, rather than leave it as an optional choice. Those advocating for this dual mandate base their argument on concern for the retired horses that we all supposedly have, should have or, more often than not, merely profess to have.

The argument centers on the purported need to have ease of identification in the “kill pen,” thus assisting those engaged in the valid enterprise of saving members of our breed. Yet in reality this allows those engaged in the enterprise to, more often than not, select a more renowned horse who did not earn a future in the industry’s premier breeding sheds and reach out to a prior owner, especially one that enrolled his/her horse in the Full Circle Program. Many times horses that have not distinguished themselves might be left to some other fate even if identified by a brand.

I wish all foals, current racehorses and retirees could be saved and cared for during the remainder of their lives. In view of that, one has to ask the question: What is the responsibility of each and every individual breeder and owner of a horse? Some would say none.

The advocates for a dual system for identification have as their mantra that Standardbreds must be able to be traced at a distance from outside a pen and then selectively saved. It is argued that the ability to view and read a brand from afar, if not obscured by a mane, is essential and critical, and that without which, saving a horse is impossible.

However, it is reported that many times those who need to view a brand obscured by a mane have been known to enter the kill pens to view an obscured identifying freeze brand. Can the same not be done with a microchip wand?

The USTA’s job is to provide for a clear, distinguishing means of identification of each horse for its lifetime to ensure the integrity of the breed to a prospective purchaser and to accurately identify horses put before the public for racing purposes. For rescue purposes, why not a simple branded star on the rump of all Standardbred horses that would be clearly visible and ID one as a member of our breed? That would allow the ability to try to save all Standardbreds.

But then what? How does the industry provide for all these horses for their entire lives? The answer to that larger question does not find a solution in the USTA mandating freeze branding. It doesn’t account for most owners’ failure to enroll a horse in the Full Circle Program. While I too am guilty of that failing, I do privately place my retired horses for their long-term care.

Many who are now advocating for dual mandatory identification originally didn’t even bother to attend the USTA district meetings to weigh in on the issue. In some districts, the brand advocates saw an opportunity to skew the vote, knowing of the disgracefully low attendance at those meetings by USTA members (estimated at less than 1.5 percent of a district’s membership).

With a few souls promoting the mandatory requirement, votes have been swayed to give the appearance of a widespread directive. This allows it to be more easily argued that if the mandatory freeze brand advocates lose the question at the annual meeting, then the USTA directors are disenfranchising the membership, despite the vast majority of that membership not being heard from at the district level.

The USTA directors seriously debate all the rule change proposals and hear from the proponents of rules. Someone will always feel slighted to some degree if their proposal does not get accepted. At that point the USTA is labeled as the doer of all wrong, even for that residing in the lack of responsibility by its own critics. The USTA and its directors come under attack as fathering everything that is wrong with our game, a favorite pastime of late which has been engendered by those who so viewed the USTA’s position on the flawed Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act.

The failure of some members to participate in our Zoom district meetings is to me a reflection of the lack of real concern that some now profess to have in the affairs of the USTA, as well as their professed concern for our Standardbreds. At some meetings, some members who did participate and demanded mandatory freeze branding—whose horses were microchipped—did not bother to freeze brand a single one, an option still available to them.

Remember, the USTA has not taken from anyone his/her ability to freeze brand a horse in addition to the mandated microchip, or enroll a horse in the Full Circle Program, or support the Standardbred Transition Alliance or place their own retirees. Simply, the USTA should not mandate an extra cost simply to placate those whose exuberance is either misplaced, or just disingenuous.

Joe Faraldo

The views contained in this column are those of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association. To comment on this column, email us at


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