Ever start feeding something to your horse but now you're not sure if you should continue it or not? Is he moving better under saddle because of the new pad or the chiropractic session? Did his blood work results improve because of the new hay or did you change his supplement? Is he standing better or worse after the latest trim?
Keeping a written or photographic log of changes and events can help us track how our horse is doing. A log can be anything from a spiral or looseleaf notebook to a spreadsheet or sophisticated computer program - the important part is that we write things down. After a few months the why and what of a change begins to get fuzzy and we may lose track of what works and what doesn't.
What kinds of things should we log?
Basic records should include routine care - vaccinations, hoof care, deworming, veterinary checks, any blood work done. You might keep these as a simple chart or spreadsheet.
Nutrition - any changes to the diet should be recorded, including the reason you made the change and what results you expect. Pictures can be extremely helpful in providing an objective evaluation of the results. Not all nutrition changes will have obvious "surface" results such as change in coat or hoof quality or weight gain/loss, and some results won't be obvious for three to six months or longer. Some (such as increased bone density or tendon strength) are almost impossible most of us to measure but will be seen as lack of injuries or improved soundness.
If you recorded your objective when you made the change (correct anemia, reduce allergic reaction, improve exercise tolerance) then, over time, you will be able to evaluate if you are seeing the expected results. If your objectives include things such as "attitude", you'll need to devise some way of "measuring" it.
If you have your hay analyzed, keep the results - over a period of time this will give you your own "regional" forage profile. Keep feed tags any time you introduce a new feed.
Vaccinations - the date, type, brand and lot number of all vaccines should be recorded (taking the information directly from the label). If your horse should have an adverse reaction, this information is necessary to file a report. Some metabolically challenged horses may react to the adjuvant/carrier in some vaccines (the reaction is seldom to the vaccine itself). Having a detailed record will help you and your vet decide if you need to change brands, pre-medicate or eliminate a particular vaccine if you horse has a reaction.
Deworming - in addition to routine deworming, log any specific/targeted deworming, such as a Panacur power pak for encysted strongyles or a combo (Equimax) or double dose Strongid for tapes. If you do not do these routinely, note the specific reason (such as non-shedding coat or simply not "thriving") so you can evaluate if this was an effective intervention. Also log any "reaction" so you can consider pre-medicating the next time if indicated.
Hoof care - if you are working with a horse with hoof problems, keeping a fairly detailed log will help you keep track of what works and what doesn't. Even minor changes (angles, type of padding, etc.) can have a dramatic effect. How your horse responds to changes in footing - rain/snow, mud, hard pack can help your hoof care provider/farrier determine what might be needed for your horse in your particular circumstance. Good quality, correct photos (front, side, solar views of each hoof plus a full horse views), along with copies of any X-rays done can be extremely useful as stuff can often be noticed in a photo that is overlooked when looking at the actual horse.
Blood work - obtain a copy of any blood work you have done on your horse. The original lab reports will show the values obtained for your horse plus the laboratory "normals". Normals vary from lab to lab, and labs use different "units", so it's important to have copies that contain this information.
If your veterinarian uses a portable blood analyzer at your barn, such as an "I-Stat", you'll have to write down the results if the machine doesn't have a printer - and ask your vet for the "normal" values so you can write them down.
Even if you don't understand all the numbers and language on the report, having a baseline plus a record of changes will be helpful if you ever move or your vet retires. If you are tracking a condition such as Insulin Resistance, even a novice (with a little help) can track the rise and fall of glucose and insulin values.
To learn how to understand your horse's lab work, the Pride Project guide (Susan Garlinghouse and Barney Fleming) is a great place to start, and Dr. Kellon's class on Understanding Blood Work will give you a working knowledge of the subject.
Exercise/conditioning log - if you are involved in something like endurance, you are likely keeping a conditioning log already. A horse in rehab should have his response to exercise tracked - including time, distance and frequency. This will provide a guideline for advancing work, or show you the point where the exercise may have exceeded his current capability.
In order to keep a good conditioning log, you need to know how to take your horse's vital signs - your vet can help you learn this. The AERC Endurance Riders Handbook contains good information on conditioning and doing your own "mini-vet exam" (see chapters six and twelve).
Other changes - a "general" page is useful for keeping track of things that really don't fit into other categories, such as tack changes, introduction of new barn mates, or other events that may or may not influence your horse's overall demeanor.
Something may seem insignificant at the time but, in retrospect, could provide a clue to something going on now. A slow recovery to "his normal self" after coming home from a heavy show schedule or trail riding weekend could just be from the change in routine. Or it could be a flag of joint or metabolic stress that won't show up again until he encounters a similar heavy workload in the future. Because you made a note, when he does come up "off" six months later, you'll know this isn't a "new" problem and this can help you form a plan to prevent it from developing into a chronic issue.
Or perhaps you've been feeding a protein or amino acid supplement for six months and have been taking weekly photos to track improvement. When you started, you expected to see improvement in your twenty-something horse's top line muscling but, despite being at an appropriate weight and a regular exercise routine, his hips and withers are still a bit too obvious. Because you have objective information (the photos), instead of continuing to spend money on a supplement that isn't providing the expected results, you have your horse tested for Cushing's disease as you know one of the signs is muscle wasting. With a positive result, you can more effectively spend your money on pergolide to control the symptoms, ensuring your horse many more years of health and soundness.
If you are trying to change something about your horse, anything you do for or to him should have a rationale that you can define and measure. Good record keeping helps you define and put your money and effort where the need is, rather than simply responding to poorly defined advertising claims. By objectively measuring results, you'll be rewarded with the satisfaction of knowing your time and money weren't wasted and, most likely, with a healthier, happier equine partner.