Horizontal gene transfer in prokaryotes is rampant on short and intermediate evolutionary time scales. It poses a fundamental problem to our ability to reconstruct the evolutionary tree of life. Is it also frequent over long evolutionary distances? To address this question, we analyzed the evolution of 2,091 insertion sequences from all 20 major families in 438 completely sequenced prokaryotic genomes. Specifically, we mapped insertion sequence occurrence on a 16S rDNA tree of the genomes we analyzed, and we also constructed phylogenetic trees of the insertion sequence transposase coding sequences. We found only 30 cases of likely horizontal transfer among distantly related prokaryotic clades. Most of these horizontal transfer events are ancient. Only seven events are recent. Almost all of these transfer events occur between pairs of human pathogens or commensals. If true also for other, non-mobile DNA, the rarity of distant horizontal transfer increases the odds of reliable phylogenetic inference from sequence data.