Monday, March 13, 2017


We decided to freeze brand our horses after reading, and hearing, so many sad stories about stolen horses being killed or abused, with little hope of being reclaimed. Bron and I knew we wanted a very unique brand that symbolized our farm, as well as being hard to alter, so thieves couldn’t change it. She had already designed our farm logo and built our brand based on it. It’s a large brand, easily visible and very unique.

The brand represents the two spotted breeds we own, Appaloosa and American Sugarbush Harlequin Drafts. The one spotted butt belongs to either and then each head shows either draft or sporthorse horse traits. The three “points” of the brand, as well as the crown, represent our farm name, which is Trinity. On the logo the spot that looks like a snowman is modeled after our senior stallion, Colida SkipNTwist, he has a grulla spot just like it on his left hip.

We contacted Branding Irons RC on facebook and sent them a brand design. We got our custom iron back very quickly and we were delighted with it.

Freeze branding is not something to undertake lightly. It’s less painful than hot branding, but takes twice the prep work. And prep work is important when you planning to put a permanent mark on your horse. Whether you have your vet do it, a freeze branding expert or do it yourself you need to make sure that everything is ready by the time your horse is ready to brand. Hunting around for tools or materials can just make it more stressful and difficult. We had 17 head to brand, so we decided to do all the prep work the night before. This allowed us to work slowly and precisely, without worrying that our liquid nitrogen was running out.

First we gathered our tools. We branded in early March because we wanted the brands healed up by show season and breeding season. We also didn’t want a bunch of bugs around to bother healing brands or make the horses itchy so they would rub against stuff. It also meant we had to clip through a lot of hair. We have a big brand and it was going to take a lot of clipping.

1)      With 17 head to clip we knew we need to keep the clipper blade clean and lubed. However, you can’t use something that will leave a heavy residue on the skin, so we opted for WD40 instead of greasier clipper oil.
2)      Hairy horses need a good stiff body brush to get the dirt out of the coat. The cleaner the coat the better your blades will work. As cold as it was bathing was not an option.
3)      Shedding blade to get loose surface hair off.
4)      Flashlight to make sure there are no cuts, abrasions or skin problems. You need to closely examine the area you are going to brand. Putting a freezing brand over an injury is not a great idea. The flashlight also allows you to work indoors or in a dim area.
5)      Toothbrush, to clean out your clipper blades. You will be using a very fine #40 surgical blade and it will gum up quickly. After 17 head of horses my blade was pretty unhappy.
6)      Black Sharpie to mark your template area onto the horse. This works on light horses.
7)      Chalk, also for marking template, on dark horses.
8)      Square level, taped to template, to make sure design is level.
9)      Plastic template. Our design was big and kite shaped. So just clipping a big square on the horse was not going to work. We need something that would help guide the brand head, because you only get one shot to get it on perfectly straight.
10)   Clippers, don’t use crappy ones. You need ones strong enough to power through heavy    
 hair and stay cool. These are Oster A-5s with a Buttercut brand #40 blade. Do NOT   
 skimp on the clipping, it is the difference between a good clear brand and a blurry one.
11)   Brand, get a good one with a proper built in hand hold and wood handle. 
12)   Not pictured: heavy insulated gloves, paint pen for marker dots, several liters of    
 Isopropyl Alcohol, at least 90 %, buy more than you think you will need. Stainless steel bucket for holding alcohol, sponge to apply it.

The night before freeze branding we clipped and examined each horse to make sure each branding site was clean, and clear of scratches or injuries. We opted to brand on the shoulder instead of the hip because our Appaloosas and Sugarbushes usually have white butts with spots, and we didn’t want to have to deal with the brand being interrupted by spotting. We branded the horses we had bred on the left shoulder and the horses we had bought on the right shoulder.

We first brushed and cleaned the area.

Then ran a slicker over the area to remove more dead hair and skin flakes.

We worked out where to place the template

Then traced the template with our Sharpie, because it’s a lighter colored horse

The marked area shows up nice and clear and gives us a good guideline for placing our brand

Before you start make sure your clippers are lubed so the blade will clip smoothly. Spray before the first clip pass, but NOT the second. The blades will still be oiled enough, but spraying before the second pass clip through will leave oil residue on the skin surface and you do not want that.

 After lubing, brush the blade to make sure it gets between the teeth and is spread evenly. You do not want big drops of oil getting on your clipped patch. 

In order to make crisp edges and to get a good idea of what your pattern will look like, I recommend clipping down with the grain of the hair first. This lets your clipper blade edge create a nice straight line at the top of your pattern. Clip all the way down and across to clear the area.

This will leave a short layer of hair which will need a second clipping, but will clearly show your work area

Next clip up against the grain and create as hairless an area as possible. You may have to go back over it a few times to get all the hair. Your flashlight comes in handy here as you can shine it up against the grain and spot stray hairs.

A nicely clipped clean area, ready for branding.

Measure the brand against the clipped area to be sure it fits in well.

Dot your brand points with a paint pen so you don’t have to second guess exactly where to place your brand. Use a paint pen, because the alcohol you will use to cover the area prior to branding will clean off any ink or chalk. You can see that the back of the brand is about a 1/4 inch bigger all the way around, so the end brand area is smaller than it looks.

Ready to brand, marker dots in place, clipped and clean. This amount of prep work will pay off so much when you finally get ready to place your brand.

The next day we made sure everyone was still in good shape, shoulder patches clean and brushed. I picked up the liquid nitrogen and parked next to our stocks. The nitrogen will chill the brand to -320 degrees, so it’s not something to mess around with, handle it carefully and be aware that even a small splash can cause scarring. When you place your brand down into the liquid nitrogen it will smoke and bubble a lot. Leave the brand in until the handle starts to frost up really good and the boiling stops. At the point the surface is calm and the bubbles are not bigger than pencil tips it’s ready to go. You can plan on the first chilling taking about 15 minutes. Once it’s been well chilled it will take less time between brands to re-chill it.

We used our stocks to hold the horses because we wanted them to remain as still as possible. This worked for all of them except our big 17.2 hand Sugarbush Harlequin Draft mare, as she doesn’t fit in the Priefert Stocks and the draft stocks have a cross bar at just the wrong height to block branding her shoulder. So we branded her in the wash rack and thankfully she was calm enough to stand. We brought each horse up and once in the stocks we each had a job and focused on it. Bron was in charge of holding the horses and timing the brand and I sponged on the alcohol and then branded them. I recommend wearing a plastic or latex glove when handling the alcohol, because if you have any cuts, scratches or hangnails you're going to get a painful reminder each time you pick up the sponge. We ended up using two full liters for 17 head. We opted to also twitch the horses with a humane twitch to keep them still. It’s simply too much trouble to sedate 17 head, and the wake up time would slow things down. 

The prep work certainly paid off. From the time the first horse entered the stocks, to the last horse took us 2.5 hours, so about 8.5 minutes per horse. Most of the time was taken up by re-chilling the brand. For the white horses we left the brand on for 50-55 seconds, so the hair would fall out and the skin would show through. For the darker horses we left it on 30 seconds so the hair would come back white and show the brand in the horse’s coat.  Once Bron called time I removed the brand and we snapped a photo.

Bay Varnish Roan mare

Dun Leopard Mare

Solid Dun Mare

When the brand is first removed the skin is indented. But just a short time later the area swells and the brand site becomes raised.

Older Snowflaked Dun Mare

A week later we have a nice clear brand and the hair is starting to slough off. We’ll post more photos as the brands come in either dark or white.

We're very pleased with how our brands turned out and proud to have our horses exhibit our farm logo and history on their shoulders.

Tracy Meisenbach
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