If someone asked you what name you’d give to a horse that you owned, you’d doubtless cycle through a whole host of different options. Perhaps some of them would be a bit rude, looking to get a swear word into the mouths of commentators, for example. That’s why the process is a lot harder than many people think, stopping namers from opting for a commercial company, a trademark or a profanity.
That’s not to say that none have ever slipped through the cracks, of course. There may be hoops that you have to jump through when you go through the process of giving you horse a name, but if you know how to be clever about it you can still get creative with your choice. Ultimately it is down to the Jockey Club to decide whether the name that you’ve chosen is appropriate, as we’ll explain in more detail here.
What Are The Rules For Naming Horses?
With the Jockey Club’s Registrar, Rick Bailey, suggesting that the organisation rejects about 30% of names that it is presented with, it’s worth having a think about the rules that those looking to name a horse have to consider. The first thing that you’ll need to bear in mind is that there is an 18-character limit on horse names, which includes spaces and punctuation. That might help explain why some of them make no sense…
No horse can have the same name as another horse, which makes sense when you think about it. The most common reason that the Jockey Club rejects a name is that it’s either too similar to another horse when it comes to the spelling or pronunciation or it’s just a direct match. This is what leads owners to being creative when they’re trying to come up with a name for their horse that will stick.
Whilst names that have been used in the past can be used if the horse in question is no longer racing, there are some titles that are removed from the register on account of a horse that had the title in the past being famous for its performances. A search of the name Arkle in the British Horseracing Authority’s naming check site, for example, gets rejected but throws up the following alternatives:
- The Arkle Bar
- Arkley Fleet
- Arkley Regal
- Arkley Royal
- Arklow Bay
- Arklow Diamond
- Arklow Hill
Even if the name comes back as available, there are a number of other checks that the BHA need to carry out before it can be officially registered. The Weatherbys Naming Team are the ones responsible for taking owners through the actual process of officially naming their horse and adding said name to the register. In order to begin doing so, the team must be sent an email.
You’re not allowed to name a horse after anyone famous. This led to a man in South Africa having to rename his horse when President Trump began to get a lot of attention. The fact that it was a ‘very vocal’, ‘extremely stubborn’ and ‘arrogant’ horse that needed to be gelded led to a lot of publicity, which might have encouraged the need to get it renamed. In the end the owner opted for ‘Fake News’ instead.
Anyone alive or dead for less than fifty years will require permission from their family before the horse can be named, unless it was owned by the person that is attempting to name it after them. Should you see a horse with a name you recognise, therefore, you’ll know that either the person themselves or their family will have had to give permission in order for the moniker to be used.
Another big reason for names being rejected is if there’s some vulgarity involved. In 2015, for example, the following names were all rejected after owners attempted to get them past the watchful eyes of Weatherbys’ naming department:
- Ben Dover
- Biggus Diccus
- Penny Tration
- Ophelia Balls
- Ho Lee Fook
- E Rex Sean
- Sofa King Fast
Unfortunately, the rule that says names cannot be ‘suggestive or [have] a vulgar, obscene or insulting meaning’ came into play, which is why none of them passed muster. Mike Butts, head of the naming department, said that they will often turn to the Urban Dictionary to check whether an unusual name has hidden connotations. Sometimes owners don’t realise there’s an extra meaning, leading to difficult conversation.
Another rule is that no politics can be used in the naming of a horse. Similarly, nothing that can be offensive to religious or ethnic groups is able to be used in the naming of a horse. In 2013, a man named Michael Kerr-Dineen attempted to name their horse ‘Gay Marriage’, but it was initially rejected by the BHA. When it seemed like that would cause a backlash, however, they backtracked and allowed it.
The final rule worth mentioning here is that names can’t have more than seven syllables. It would be tricky to have that many given the eighteen character limit, but it is there anyway. It’s likely that the limit is designed to stop commentators from having headaches trying to figure how to say such long names during a fast-paced race, giving them the peace of mind to know that they’ll at least be short enough to get out quickly.
Perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, there are other specifics that the Jockey Club puts in place for people looking to name a horse. For the purposes of ease, all horses are given a date of birth of the 1st of January, regardless of when in the year they were actually born. They all need to have been given a name by the February of their second year, with a late fee charged if they haven’t.
Owners are required to put six names forward to the Jockey Club, with the organisation then deciding which of those names can be used. The name can be changed until the point at which the horse has either taken part in a race or else been used for breeding, with a fee payable to make the change. In addition to the rules around eighteen characters to a name, no initials can be used, like I.O.U., for example.
Horse related terms are also off the table, so owners can’t choose to add ‘filly’, ‘mare’, ‘stud’ or ‘colt’, say, to the end of the names they’ve chosen. If a name is to be made up entirely of numbers then they need to be spelled out and they have to be above thirty. Numerical designations such as ‘second’ or ‘third’ aren’t allowed at the end of a horse’s name, with race tracks and graded races also banned.
If you want to use a name that sounds a bit like the name of a former horse that isn’t on the restricted list then you’ll have to wait until the horse has either left racing, stopped breeding or been dead for a period of five years. In short, there are more things stopping you from coming up with the name of a horse than there are ensuring that it’s ok, which is why many have names that honour their pedigree, for simplicity.
How Horses Are Identified
Once the horse’s name has been decided upon and the Jockey Club has confirmed that it is acceptable, there are a number of ways that the horse can be identified in the future. In North America, for example, lip tattooing is common. This isn’t used much in Europe because it’s painful for the horses, is able to be altered and can fade over time. That they’re not easily visible also means they don’t act as a deterrent to thieves.
Because insurance companies offer a reduction in premium for owners that have their newly named horses identifiable, there are numerous other ways to do the job. Once such is by inserting a microchip under the skin, which is then registered onto HorseSafe, a computerised system. Though it also doesn’t act as a deterrent, a horse is easily identifiable by passing a scanner over the horse’s neck.
Photographs and identification documents are obviously useful when it comes to proving ownership of a horse, but a horse’s look can be changed relatively easily. That’s why the likes of freeze marking, hot iron branding and hoof branding are all used by owners. Freeze marking involves a branding iron being put into liquid nitrogen, with the cold iron destroying the pigment cells on the horse’s skin.
The result of this is that white hairs grow in the place that the horse has been branded, acting both as a way of identifying the horse and also as a deterrent to possible thieves. The branded skin will always produce white hairs, so there is no need to repeat it, with the process being painless. The branding company then maintains a register of all horses they have branded, meaning that the sale of a horse will need the accompanying paperwork.
Hot iron branding is similar to freeze branding, with the exception that it involves an iron being heated up and is extremely painful for the horse. Hoof branding uses the same method as hot iron branding, with the owner’s postcode branded into the hoof of the horse. It is painless, but because hooves constantly grow it needs to be re-done twice a year and is therefore less attractive as an option.
Once the horse has been successfully branded, the information along with their official name is entered into their paperwork. This paperwork must be shown any time a horse is sold, so that the buyer knows that the horse they’re paying for is actually the one that they’re given. It’s another part of the process that owners have to consider alongside giving them a name.
The Ones That Made It Through
Of course, even with teams of people looking all day long at thousands of name applications, turning to Urban Dictionary when they’re not sure about something, there are still a few that get through the cracks. With between 12,000 and 13,000 horse names registered every year, it’s not a shock that there are more than a few naughty or provocative ones that don’t get caught.
Such things add colour to the world of horse racing, of course. That’s why the South African horse Hoof Hearted was so beloved of those that listened to a commentator pronounce it during a race (see above video). Irish commentators got a laugh when calling out Wear The Fox Hat in a race, whilst childish people were delighted to hear of Two In The Pink making it onto the track for a race.
Obviously some older horses will have names that aren’t as palatable in the modern era but weren’t considered to be too risky at the time. The American Stud Book, for example, contains the following horse names from many years ago:
- Blow Me – 1945
- Jail Bait – 1947 & 1983
- Barely Legal – 1982 & 1989
- Spank It – 1985
- Date More Minors – 1998
- Bodacious Tatas – 1985
- Sexual Harassment – 1997
- Hardawn – 1937
If you plan on trying to sneak a name past the Jockey Club then don’t be too cocky if you succeed. That’s a lesson that Andy Hillis could have done with learning after naming his horse Nutzapper. The word had been used as a joke on the Tonight Show by a guest suggesting it would be a good male contraceptive. When he put it forward as the title for his horse, the Jockey Club asked him why.
He told them that he’d grown up in Canada and used to zap walnuts in order to sprinkle them on salads, which was a good enough explanation for the organisation. The issue was the Hillis then boasted about it in an interview with the Daily Racing Form, declaring that he ‘made it up on the spot’ and had ‘never even been to Canada’. Within 48 hours the Jockey Club banned it and it couldn’t be used.
Hillis’ error is one that other owners trying to sneak a dodgy name past the Jockey Club would do well to learn from.
Instances You Cannot Plan For
Although the rules prevent individual horses from being given spurious names it is impossible to prevent situations in races where two horses with different names can combine to create something rather funny.
One example that made me laugh when writing this was a race at Monmouth in 2010 (see video above). One horse in the race were named ‘My Wife Knows Everything’ and another was named ‘The Wife Doesn’t Know’. Predictably it was a race to the line between these two runners that created comedy gold from the commentator.
My Wife Knows Everything won the race ahead of My Wife Doesn’t Know – which I suppose reflects the real situation in most marriages.