Extra Protection

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Even if your horses and those of your clients aren’t multimillion-dollar racing studs like Barbaro, Olympic gold medal-winners or Futurity champions, their worth is still immeasurable. Your tack, supplies, trucks, trailers and farm equipment are valuable investments, too.

Thoughts of heightened security are consistently on our minds these days, whether we travel or stay close to home and horse. You may already own dogs who alert you to the approach of others, and your neighbors may work with you on a farm and horse “watch” plan—both are excellent precautions. But more sophisticated help is available to protect and retain your most prized possessions.

First Things First

We’ve all heard stories of horses being stolen and sold at slaughter, or of riding-school tack rooms being stripped bare. However, it seems no one’s keeping overall track of how many thefts actually occur or when or where they happen. Chris Borden, president of The EMO Agency, Inc. in Warrenton, Va., remembers maybe “one horse theft in 20 years.” Dr. Lance Allen, president and COO of Agri-Risk Services Inc. in Stillwell, Kan., has worked in insurance for 20 years, during which time he recalls three equine theft losses. “There’s not much sizzle there and we don’t talk much about it,” he says with candor.

Still, as long as humans covet what others possess, stable owners know they really can’t be too careful. Pete Gibbs, PhD, wrote the book on preventing theft in our industry—literally. He co-authored “Horse Theft Awareness and Prevention,” a superb treatise on how to avoid trouble at your farm, with Leman H. Wall. Dr. Gibbs is professor and associate department head at Texas A&M University’s Dept. of Animal Science.

“Tracking stolen horses can be difficult because theft reports are often delayed, and stolen horses can change hands frequently and at remote locations,” says Dr. Gibbs in his work. He urges horse owners to “permanently identify horses” with either freeze or hot iron brands, microchips and/or lip tattoos. Keep a comprehensive file on your horses to document ownership. Include registration papers, dated bill of sale and breed association transfer-of-ownership paperwork. Take photos of the entire animal, without tack, at different angles, and take clear shots of scars, brands and other markings. If applicable, as in Texas, record brands with the county clerk.

We’re not trying to insult you here, but secure barns, corrals or pens from the road with a good perimeter fence and well-built gates that can be locked. “Slowing a potential horse thief and/or making access to horses more difficult can deter theft significantly,” says Dr. Gibbs. Build your barn or corral away from the road, and place your facilities beyond your house so it must be passed by on the way to the horses.

If equines are pastured, experts recommend taking halters off. Don’t feed horses close to the pasture gate or road; they’ll congregate there, making them easy to catch. Keep gates locked, check on horses regularly, and vary the time of your trips to the pasture. Absentee owners sometimes don’t realize for several days that their horses have been stolen! Secure halters in a locked tack room or feed room. Permanently identify tack, perhaps by engraving a driver’s license number, and lock the door to the room. Post “no trespassing” signs, or signs indicating farm or livestock association membership.

Beyond the Basics

Display security system signs—and have a real system to go with them. Systems are hard at work in homes, restaurants and shopping malls, and yes, on many farms, too. Just ask Roy Bordes of Orlando, Fla., who founded The Bordes Group, Inc. in 1978 to provide consulting services for clients in search of advanced technology-integrated system designs. These incorporate “intrusion detection, access controls, closed-circuit television surveillance and loss prevention systems,” explains Bordes, who began protecting horses in Nashville, Tenn. He conceives the design, then recommends contractors to install it.

Make security a priority, he counsels. “If it’s valuable enough to put in your stable, it’s valuable enough to protect,” he says. It makes sense to spend $10,000 to protect $5 million worth of horses with a sprinkler and fire alarm system. “Most horses are lost as a result of stable fires and accidents as opposed to theft. Remember, too, that a barn manager five miles away is of little use in this situation. Even smoke in the lungs may render a horse totally useless,” says Bordes, who also recommends equipment such as “break-away gates” that yield to certain amounts of forceful pressure if a horse needs to exit in a disaster.

To counter theft, he may network high-tech cameras “that allow you to sit in Orlando and view your Kentucky stable via the Internet.” To control access to the property, he recommends installing a detection device on gates at your facility “so you know who’s coming in and going out.” A driveway alarm also works well in this scenario.

Typically, equine owners send Bordes drawings of their proposed barn layouts, and he looks for “points to protect. I may propose cameras for video surveillance and archiving—you view the tape later—in individual stalls or the barn aisle, or I’ll suggest an intrusion detection device,” perhaps a Star Wars-like photoelectric beam three feet above ground that “sees” motion.

A ceiling motion detector in the office corner senses if an intruder enters, even through the roof, and can sound an alarm to an employee or to a central station where security personnel then notify police or the owner.

Identity theft is another concern: if you keep confidential records such as spreadsheets in your barn computer, don’t ignore this possibility, says Bordes, who cites savvy biometrics technology that reads fingerprints when signing on the computer, versus using a password. “Someone steals the computer, uses the wrong finger three times, and (OUCH!) the hard-drive will erase,” he says.

Bordes is also a fan of implanted chips that retain a horse’s medical and performance records and of the futuristic concept of long-range readers that identify herd members from a distance. If you feel it’s better to be safe than sorry, take an analytical look at your stable and become your own proactive “consultant.” Chances are, you can identify ways to increase protection right now, and you’ll rest easier knowing you’re making it tough for a thief to do his job.