Some Canadian friends like to tell the story about the time they were stopped at the Can/Am border on the way to an endurance ride in the States. The American border guard carefully examined their passport and the horses' paperwork. Then he took the papers back to the horse trailer and looked inside the trailer at the two geldings standing quietly inside.
After a minute, the guard returned to the cab with papers in hand. "Are you sure," asked the guy in one of those pompous-uniform voices, "that the horses you've represented on these documents are the same horses you have in the trailer?"
My friends were sure, having just loaded those horses in broad daylight a few hours earlier.
"...because," continued the border guard, "neither one answers to his name!"
While the horsaii readers finish laughing and mopping tears of mirth from their eyes, I will explain to the non-horsey-readers that horses are almost never called by their "real" i.e. registered names. Most registered names are long, outlandish, and often insanely dumb.
For example, Fiddle is registered with the United States Trotting Association as Naked Willow. Yeah, I definitely wanna holler all that at the top of my lungs, come feeding time. Uh, NOT.
When there's money involved--in breeding or racing registries, for example, the registries require positive ID, such as a tattoo or DNA taken from a hair sample). However, in competitive organizations like the American Endurance Ride Conference, you can call your horse whatever you want on the paperwork. Since there are no money prizes in AERC-sanctioned events, there's no incentive to bring "ringers" to a ride, and besides, endurance is a small community and it's likely that somebody in camp will recognize a horse if s/he has ever competed before! I, personally, am terrible at telling grey horses apart, but I can (and have) spotted Lytha's Baasha in a crowd of grey geldings.
I had a nightmare once that Story--a plain dark bay mare with no discernible markings--was stolen, and I couldn't explain to anybody how I would recognize her.
Then one day I loaned Story to a friend for a limited-distance ride, and the friend told me that several people had stopped her on the trail to quiz her and find out who she was and why she was riding my horse!
So, how do you know that the horse you've got is the same horse you bought? I could spot Fiddle from a mile away, just watching her move, but you can't prove that in court. Fortunately for me, the USTA has taken care of that for me:
The freezebrand isn't infallible. It's completely illegible in the winter, unless I clip the hairs short (her winter coat is growing in now, and I see in the photo that the 8 looks more like a 3). But at least it's something BIG and PERMANENT, and written on her brand inspection paperwork!
In fact, her brand inspection was the fastest I've ever witnessed. She hopped off the trailer at the vet's office, and the vet rolled her eyes at me. "Another of your plain-brown-wrapper horses?" she asked me with a grimace.
Then I turned the horse around, the vet smiled, wrote ZT128 on the paperwork, tore off my copy of the sheet, and I loaded my horse back in the trailer with about 60 seconds of total exam time!
Fee has a few other strange marks, neither of which are on her paperwork:
I don't know what the significance of the dark square on her butt is, but it's always there, winter or summer.
She also has a few white hairs at the top of the whorl on her forehead. Can't see those under her forelock usually, but they are always there!
Hana's paperwork documents ALL of her chrome.
She is a very flashy horse, with lots of distinctive marks, including a beautiful blaze
but my favorite mark is the little smudge of brown on her nose. We call it her "cookie mark", because it looks like she's got cookie crumbs on her nose.
When I was taking ID pictures of the horses, Lupin didn't want to be left out.
"Take MY picture, too!"
Life is good.