Horse Branding – The Complete Guide

Last Updated on February 24, 2022 by Allison Price

Horse branding allows horse owners the ability to identify their horses and prove ownership.

Horse branding refers to the use of an iron tool to mark a horse permanently with a ranch’s identifying symbol.

This is particularly useful in situations of theft, natural disasters, or equine events.

Horse brands can be registered with state or local livestock brands registries to make it easy for ranch owners to track down the specific brand.

It is easy for them to identify to which ranch the branded horse belongs.

Brands can’t be removed as they permanently alter horses’ hair and skin.

Some farms have hundreds of horses. Branding is a way to show proof of ownership.

Horse brands are not only useful for horse owners but also help other equestrians. It allows others to easily identify the ranch from which a horse seen at an event is coming.

Ranch owners can also use horse branding to establish reliable lines of horses that are easy for people to recognize.

Methods of branding

Two types of branding are available: freeze branding and heat branding.

Horse Branding

Although the concept and the goal are identical, the results can be quite different.

Freeze branding

Freeze branding is when a branding iron is placed in a very cold cooling agent and frozen to embed a brand into the horse’s coat.

You can choose to freeze agents as either dry ice and alcohol or liquid nitrogen.

Frost branding can cause loss of pigment, or hair loss depending on how long it is held against the horse.

A short application of a freeze brand can cause color discoloration, but no hair loss.

Because it damages the pigment in the hair, this would be done in a darkened area of the horse’s skin.

Another option is to use the freeze brand for a longer time to freeze the hair permanently. This will effectively kill the hair’s growth follicles.

This causes complete hair loss and changes in the brand’s shape. (source)

Five Steps to Apply a Freeze Mark

Experienced branders and veterinarians can freeze-brand. These are the basics of how the process works.

  1. Prepare the area of your horse you wish to brand. Clean the area you want to brand.

    Your brand should have a twice or three-fold larger area than the area to be clipped.
  2. The dry ice or liquid nitrogen will cool the branding iron.

    It can take anywhere between 30 seconds and a minute.
  3. After trimming the area, apply a lot of alcohol to the area.

    This removes oil from the surface and forms a barrier to aid in freezing.
  4. Place the chilled branding iron on the desired area and ensure it is properly placed.

    Your brand should always be right-side up. This is a permanent job, so make sure you do it correctly the first time.

    Horse branding is not a one-size fits all.
  5. If necessary, use a timer to accurately time the brand application

7 seconds is sufficient if you only want color discoloration. This works best for horses with dark colors.

Twelve seconds is the ideal time for permanent hair removal using freeze branding. Do not exceed 12 seconds.

For lighter horses, the former may be necessary. (source)

What to Expect

You will notice a distinct indentation in your brand’s pattern almost immediately.

The branded area will begin to swell in about 10 minutes. It will remain swollen for approximately a week.

You may not be able to see the brand after the swelling subsides. But don’t worry.

You will see the skin’s top layer shedding in the branded area after a month.

You will notice white hair in the branded area if you only have it for 2 months. (source)

Hot Brand

Hot branding is often referred to by the term “fire branding”. It involves heating a brand iron until it causes severe burns to the horse’s hair and skin.

It can damage hair and sometimes leave scarring.

You can heat the iron by electric or fire, but the end result is the exact same: Your hair will not grow back in the area you hot-branded.

It’s important to understand that branding horses is not the same as hot branding other livestock.

Horses have a thinner skin than cattle and other farm animals, so their branding time is less.

Horses should not be left on the brand for longer than two seconds. This is even less true for dark horses or horses with stainless steel branding irons.

Using a horse’s name for too long could cause severe burns, infections, and unneeded pain.

Five Steps to Apply a Hot Brand

  1. Before branding, clean the area but ensure it is dry completely.

    Heat irons should not be used on a wet coat. 
  2. You can either place the branding iron on a hot coal bed or turn it on if you have an electric one.

    Irons should not be heated in flames. (source)
  3. You need to make sure that the iron heats up enough, but not too hot.

    Red hot is not the right color for a brand. It should instead be a grey ash colour. It is too cold if it is black. (source)
  4. You must ensure that the horse is securely restrained.

    Hot branding can cause pain to horses, and they may jump, flinch or move slightly when they feel it.
  5. For just 1 to 2 seconds, gently press the hot iron on the horse to apply the mark

Hot branding horses are different from other livestock.

Their skin is thinner, and excessive pressure can cause severe burns instead of just destroying hair.

Is Branding Cruel Is it harmful to horses?

Horse branding isn’t cruel if done right.

Many argue that horse branding, particularly hot branding, is cruel as it causes extreme pain and burns.

Horses should feel minimal pain during hot branding. The brand is only visible for a few seconds.

Horses can be seriously injured if a brander is inexperienced and applies hot brands for too long.

Freeze branding can be done by veterinarians to ensure that horses are comfortable.

Freeze branding is growing in popularity due to the fact that it not only damages the hair pigment or the follicle but does not actually burn the skin.

It is crueler to not mark a horse in certain areas, as unbranded stolen horses can be very difficult to find.

Brand Locations – The Best Place to Put Your Brand

Horse owners often place their brands in easy-to-reach areas of the horse’s body.

Horses that have been branded tend to prefer the hip or shoulder.

Branding is meant to help identify the owner. They should be easy to find.

Seek out state branding regulations to determine if branding must be placed on certain areas of horses for registration.

Some people prefer to mark the horse’s jaw, neck, and ribs.

These branding areas may not be common in your state and may not be recognised.

How to design a horse freeze brand

A brand should be easily identifiable.

Many brands have a letter or two that is placed in a circle or diamond or square or beside slash marks or crosses or any other symbol.

They’re simple but unique to the ranch that they represent.

To create the perfect brand, you will need to hire a custom branding iron manufacturer.

Keep these things in mind

  • Check that the brand meets all state requirements for livestock brand registration.

    Every state is unique and may have its own regulations regarding the size and location of livestock brands.
  • Consider the age of your horse.

    You should compensate for the potential growth of your brand as a young horse grows.
  • It can take several weeks to create custom brands and another week to ship them.

    Custom designed branding irons cannot be turned around quickly.
  • Most custom brands cannot be modified after they have been created.

    Make sure you are 100% certain that the design you submit to a branding iron business is the one you want.

    There is not much that can be done to a custom iron once it is made. If the design changes, most irons will need to be completely redone.

Where can I buy a custom freeze branding iron

You may be able to find a local company that makes branding irons if you’re in the right place.

To find out if one is near you, consult your equestrian contacts.

Do not despair if you are unable to find one in your local area. You can order custom branding irons online from many companies.

These are just a few.

L & H Branding Irons
Long View Ranch
Pittsburg Foundry

How Old Can You Freeze Brand Horses?

Horses of all ages can safely be frozen branded.

The skin is not burned by freeze branding, so there are no chances of infection or pain for horses. (source)

Can you put your brand on a horse that is already branded?

You can brand a horse with a brand already.

It is important to register your brand and include it in your horse’s registration markings.

Place the brand in a different part of the horse’s body to the one that is already there.

You should only add a brand to your horse if you intend on keeping it for the future.

Can a brand be removed?

A horse cannot have its existing brand removed after it has been put on.

It is always there once it is there.

This is why branding exists in the first instance. Someone who steals the horse and wishes to keep it hidden from the brand cannot remove it.

Last Thoughts

Horse branding can be one of the best ways for you to show ownership.

Branding isn’t just useful in cases of theft but it can also be extremely helpful during natural disasters.

If done correctly, horse branding isn’t cruel. However, freeze branding offers a painless experience for horses.

You can make your brand stand out with the right tools and the right support.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!