There are many different reasons why a horse's breed registration papers can be lost. Sometimes, if the horse has been bought and sold a number of times, a previous owner will not have passed the papers along. Unscrupulous sellers may sell the papers along with a similar horse to increase its value. Along with being inconvenient for the new owner of the now 'un-papered' horse, this is illegal. But whatever reason, it is sometimes possible to recover the registration papers.
If you have a horse that is tattooed or branded, you have a head start in the recovery process. Thoroughbreds often have a lip tattoo, and although they can be difficult to read as the horse ages, they do provide a means of identification. Rather than try to hold the horse's upper lip back and read the tattoo, I find it easier to hold the lip and have someone take a picture. That way, the numbers and letters can be read while you take your time, and not have to worry about a squirming horse. I've found enhancing the contrast and sharpness of a photo makes the characters show up better.
Shaving down neck tattoos can help increase the visibility. Some horses, rather than a specific set of characters may be branded with a farm tattoo. This means the horse's breeder may be found and be able to give clues as to the horse's breeding. Make sure any requests are courteous and understand that sometimes, very larger farms don't keep detailed records. Some do, however, and you may find that a clear description and photo will help a breeder remember your horse.
Very occasionally, a horse will have a microchip implanted. These require a special scanner to find and read. Your veterinarian or animal shelter may be able to assist you.
If you know the breed of the horse, suspect the horse is previously registered, and know the breeder's name the breed association may be able to help identify your horse and re-issue the papers. Knowing the horse's registered name is a great help. You'll need clear photos and a description, so they can match the information submitted when the horse was young. Some breed associations charge for this service.
If you have the papers already, but want to find out about horse's ancestry, there are several online databases that can help. The website www.allbreedpedigree.com is the largest and encompasses several breeds such as American Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred, Arabian, and Paint. Other breed registries such as the Morgan Club and Appaloosa Horse registries may keep their own databases. Simply type in the name of the horse, and if the information has been entered, you may find a photo, names of previous owners, pedigree and show records. Sometimes, you may find several horses with the same name. Check the date of birth and name to be sure you've found the right records. Another resource is www.wikihorseworld.com/pedigree/.
Did you find a lot of champions in your horse's pedigree? Remember that there is a lot more to a good horse than an impressive pedigree. Many Thoroughbred riding horse owners brag that their horse is a descendent of a famous race horse. But what's desirable in a race horse many not as welcome in a riding horse. For example, Man O War was a spectacular race horse, but he's said to have been difficult to handle—not something you want in a pleasure horse!
If you own a grade horse, there is a ‘breed’ association for you too. Any horse can be registred with The American Grade Horse Registry and it a useful resource for tracing pedigrees, identification and proving ownership.