Maintaining Horse Health Records: Keep Notes on Everything!
Records could reveal health patterns, provide clues for future health concerns, and keep a wellness program on track.
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse
"Today ate 15 pounds of hay and six pounds of grain (very good). Chewed fence three times (better). Refused only two jumps (wrong color for my attitude). Rolled in mud 10 minutes after bath (very bad according to my person, but felt very good). Dragged my person from the barn to the pasture (bad for her, fun for me). Thought of that Irish-bred warmblood stallion Daydream’s Mark Darcy 127 times (bad and good)." -- From the diary of Fantasy’s Bridget Jones, slightly overweight Thoroughbred mare.
If horses kept diaries, journal entries might be like this. But since humans are the ones keeping track of our horses’ goings-on, our entries will likely be less romantic and more focused on documenting health and fitness data. It’s not the stuff of best-sellers, but an important document that could reveal health patterns, provide clues for future health concerns, and keep a wellness program on track.
Yes, I Remember It Well...
Memories are not always accurate, especially over a span of years or when several horses are involved. Notes Roberta M. Dwyer, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVPM, of the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center, "Relying on memory is a poor way to manage the health and welfare of your horse. Most vaccines have initial doses which have to be spaced apart, and if you have more than one horse to vaccinate, deworm, shoe, feed, etc., keeping records is absolutely essential."
An accurate health record is useful for a variety of other reasons, as well. You should note positive responses and negative reactions to drugs, keep details of daily health and well-being that could provide clues for a diagnosis in times of illness, make notes on training that could help you develop an optimum training regimen, etc.
"For example, if the horse has an adverse reaction to an agent, it’s important to know exactly what and when those biologics or drugs were given," Dwyer points out. "The veterinarian who administered the vaccinations or medication may not be on call, and it would be obviously beneficial to the treating veterinarian to know what the animal received."
Detailed records that include breeding status, paddock or stall, age, vaccination status, and feed source (e.g., pelleted ration vs. oats and corn, where bought and when) can be critical in determining a likely cause during disease outbreaks. Says Dwyer, "Whether it be strangles, Salmonellosis, leptospirosis, or a disease of unknown cause, the completeness of records and the ability to sort the data is imperative to veterinarians in resolving the problem and obtaining clues as to where and when a disease started on the farm. Knowing when the last batch of feed was delivered to the farm if you have to investigate a potential poisoning or food contamination problem can help you trace the feed to the site of origin for further testing. Knowing when mare X shipped onto the farm, which paddock (with what other horses) and stall she initially entered before being moved to Barn 2 and breaking with strangles can help with isolation and disinfection matters."
Records can also be used to track the costs of upkeep, veterinary and farrier procedures, feed, training, etc., states Duncan Peters, DVM, an associate veterinarian at LaSalle Veterinary Clinic in Kalispell, Mont. This is helpful for budgeting present as well as future costs.
The health record should be started when the foal is born or when a horse is acquired, and it should follow the horse through his entire life. What the owner or farm manager includes in the record often depends on how the horse is used, i.e., pleasure, high performance, or breeding. Your record might include the following:
Routine health and oral exams—One of the basics of the health record is to keep track of vaccines and/or dewormers by type and date administered, plus listing any reactions that arose. The health record also should include results of exams (including specific abnormalities, disorders, and concerns), identification of dental procedures and abnormalities, and a general assessment of overall health, body condition, and fitness.
This data is useful for maintaining a proper herd health schedule, particularly if there are a number of horses on the farm or if you are in charge of a herd where horses come and go frequently. The record might also reveal health patterns.
"We may be able to pick up trends or find answers to questions," Peters says, "such as a horse that tends to react to a certain vaccine consistently, has colicked after utilizing a particular deworming medication, is extremely sensitive to a particular sedative, or develops hives from an unknown cause every year in August."
Farrier procedures—Condition of the hooves, type and frequency of trimming and shoeing, problems noted, and responses to farrier procedures could suggest the best course of future farrier work for the individual horse. You should note in your records if problems arise between farrier visits regarding the hoof, foot, or way of going. For example, if a horse starts stumbling if not kept on a certain shoeing interval, this might indicate how often farrier work is needed, Peters says.
Illnesses, lameness, injuries, disorders, and abnormalities—Record the date a problem or abnormality was first noted, clinical signs, suggested treatment, and response. This information could be useful in efficiently treating the same problem in the future (or for changing the treatment regimen), or could reveal the beginning of a chronic situation that warrants further investigation.
Results of laboratory tests—Keep a record of what tests were done and when and the general results as interpreted by the veterinarian, i.e., "normal," "high," etc. Some owners might keep specific results or numbers from tests along with the veterinary interpretation. Says Dwyer, "If the animal is being treated for a disease condition where multiple cultures or tests are being taken, such as uterine cultures, thyroid levels, etc., then having a record of the test results would give the owner something to look at as a trend to discuss with the veterinarian."
Workout and competition notes—"A horse in training may have daily notes on workouts, response to the exercise, and future exercise plans," says Peters. "By carefully looking back at the notes on a weekly basis, a rider or trainer may be able to see if the horse is responding as anticipated, determine if it’s under-training, or more importantly, determine if it’s over-training and therefore risking injury or a lack of compliance on the horse’s part. This is unnecessary for a pleasure horse."
Maintaining a record of how a horse reacts at a particular competition can reveal what can be done to minimize stress and allow the horse to compete optimally. "Water intake, particular feed likes and dislikes, whether the horse does better with more frequent times out of the stall, his reaction to noises, whether relaxing exercise or hacking in the morning helps the horse relax for competition, or whether daily schooling keeps the horse more focused on its task are all items that can be jotted down and may be helpful," Peters states.
Response to rehabilitation of medical and/or lameness problems—"In many cases, what seemed to be ‘an eternity’ was in fact right on schedule for a recovery time," Peters reports. "One also could evaluate the effectiveness of a particular treatment regime (therapeutic ultrasound, laser, shockwave, nutrition or hormone changes, etc.) within a timeframe."
Environmental data—"Keep records of when pastures were fertilized, treated with lime or herbicides, and dates of pesticide treatments to trees or shrubs in and around pastures. These can all be essential in tracking down any adverse reaction in the case of chemical usage as well as determining when it is safe for horses to return to those pastures," says Dwyer.
Breeding data—"On breeding farms, the breeding date, ultrasound/palpation results, uterine culture dates and results, infusion dates/drugs/response, teasing records, etc., are all critical for establishing breeding outcomes and pregnancy rates per year," says Dwyer.
Records On Hand
Recordkeeping can be simple or high-tech, as long as the data is recorded and kept in some sort of logical, easily retrievable fashion.
Recipe boxes with index cards, loose-leaf binders with tabs, wall calendars, and notebooks can be used to track schedules and record vaccinations, farrier work, dentistry, physicals, etc. Owners also can use health care pamphlets or folders provided by their veterinarian.
"Many pharmaceutical companies and feed companies provide equine preventive medicine record-keeping folders, or they are available at feed stores, tack shops, and/or your veterinarian," says Peters.
Computer users can use a spreadsheet, database, or word processing program (all of which often come bundled with the computer) by entering appropriate fields for vaccination dates, blood work results, farrier dates, illnesses or injuries, and other specifics. There is also software specially designed for equine record keeping, including health care, business aspects of horse ownership and/or competition, and hoof care and shoeing, Peters says.
It only takes a few minutes per veterinarian or farrier visit to enter data or file a report. While your health diary won’t reward you by ending up on the best-seller list or being made into a movie, your compensation will be a record that will optimize veterinary, farrier, and training procedures and could ultimately save you time and money, or even your horse’s life.
Real Recordkeeping from Real People
Recordkeeping methods for health care, business aspects of horse ownership, and/or competition can be simple or high-tech. What works best is a method that’s convenient and easy for you to access, whether it is a file folder in a drawer, a binder notebook in the barn, or a database on a home computer. Here’s how six horse owners handle their health records.
Paula, Maine, four Morgans—Paula uses Meeting Maker calendar software with a self-designed FileMaker Pro database to keep records in electronic format. "I like FileMaker Pro because it allows me to sort data by certain criteria and create categories that may not come in pre-packaged software." Paula also keeps hard copies of everything in a zipped waterproof binder and plastic sheet protectors -- which is handy for traveling or when the computer is inaccessible. Recording registration information, photographic identification, veterinary care, farrier care, growth statistics, feeding programs, and show records allows her to track individuals over time when human memory isn’t always reliable.
Jennifer, Pennsylvania, one Swedish Warmblood—Jennifer relies on an equestrian journal to record farrier visits and what was done, vaccinations (kind and date), dewormings (kind and date), teeth floatings, lamenesses/injuries and treatments, all veterinary visits (date, purpose, what was done), and medications given (when, why, how much, for how long). These records help, says Jennifer, when the veterinarian asks, "So when was the last…"
Todd, Ontario, three Thoroughbreds, a Hackney/Shetland pony, a half-Arab pinto gelding—A voracious record keeper, Todd uses a file folder for each horse, Daytimers, binders with health record sheets, and data recorded on the Canadian passports of his competition horses. He records:
- Veterinary and farrier visits (dates, medications, lameness exams, ultrasound exams for his broodmare, floatings, chiropractic treatments, blood tests, etc.) with a copy of veterinary invoices (providing a record of payment and cost of various procedures which is helpful for budgeting);
- Routine health care he does himself (administering dewormers, starting or stopping oral medications);
- Observations (onset and duration of lameness, other health problems);
- Delivery of hay, feed, or bedding; and
- Future show dates in his Daytimer in order to appropriately schedule health care appointments.
Besides tracking each horse’s long-term health, these records provide proof of soundness and regular veterinary care for show or sale purposes.
Susan, five mules, Idaho—"I just keep a basic shots and deworming record," says Susan, "listing any lameness or unusual things like the small swelling one mule had just inside her flank that was raised with two puncture holes in it." Susan uses a file folder and plain paper, along with a calendar. "The vets appreciate it when they can get straight facts, not, ‘I think it was two weeks ago’ when it really was a month and a half ago," she says.
Dolly, Western Australia, 16 Warmbloods—Dolly maintains a notebook for each horse, but recently purchased Horsebiz, a software program that she finds very useful. "All of Horsebiz’ data recording is good, the pedigree is super, and being able to create hypothetical pedigrees is great," she says. Dolly records births, service dates in the breeding season, when feet are trimmed, vaccinations, drenchings, and also when horses were trained. She finds her records are especially helpful when she has to check dates.
Katherine, Alabama, one Thoroughbred jumper, one Quarter Horse—Katherine records veterinary, farrier, vaccination, and deworming data on blank paper in a spiral notebook. She also keeps the labels and/or writes down the lot number of vaccines used for her horses. Shoeing records are especially valuable to her: Date, farrier visits, cost, size of shoes, new vs. reset, whether or how much of the work an assistant did, and any special modifications such as grinding down the heels. "These records help if, for example, you move and your new farrier asks if your horse has ever been hot shod," she says. "Recently, my mare went through a spell of losing shoes. I was able to go back and see that she lost shoes most often in the summer and usually on a reset."
About the Author
Marcia King is an award-winning freelance writer based in Ohio who specializes in equine, canine, and feline veterinary topics. She's schooled in hunt seat, dressage, and Western pleasure.
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