Keeping a Stable Record Book

Keeping a Stable Record Book

For alumni of 4-H or Pony Club, maintaining a horse record book is something that you’ll remember doing as a kid or a teen. The clubs provide the books and the guidance, and the rider adds and updates the data. For those “uninitiated” to the practice, a stable record book provides documentation of a horse, his care, and expenses over time. It can be a daunting task, but is well worth the effort.

Keeping a stable record book

Why Bother?

Maintaining a stable record book might just seem like one more thing to keep track of in an already busy world… why bother adding another update to your daily routine?

  1. Emergency Preparedness: These kinds of records are invaluable in case of emergency. In a missing horse situation, you have the ideal photos to identify your animal, provide to authorities, or share on social media. If your horse falls ill, you have baseline vitals for comparison, healthcare history, and daily care notes to help your vet reach a quick and accurate diagnosis.
  2. Better, More Efficient Care: No more wracking your brain to remember what dewormer you used last. You won’t have to guesstimate that it’s about time to schedule your farrier. You can predict when you will need to buy feed and bedding next. All of the information that you need to keep your horse and run your barn is organized and contained in one place.
  3. Financial Planning and Budgeting: By tracking your horse-related expenses, you know exactly what you spend on this aspect of your life. You will be able to make wiser purchasing decisions for not only the “wants” like those new polo wraps, but also “needs” like feed, bedding, and farrier work.
  4.  Goalsetting: By tracking and recording your horse’s exercise, baseline vitals, show calendar, etc. all in one place, you can create useful and attainable goals for your horsemanship skills and your horse’s fitness and athletic ability.

As you can see, the question is less like “why bother,” and more like “why am I not doing this?”

What is in the record book?

A complete record book includes several sections. Ideally, the record book allows any person reasonably versed in basic horse care to take up the maintenance of the horse if needed. It can also be an invaluable resource for tracking your horse’s care and condition over time. You will have his detailed history at-hand and in one organized location in the event of an emergency.

Stable Record Book Girl Caring For Horse
Photo by Vadim Fomenok on Unsplash

Basics

Basic general information include the names, addresses, and contact details of the humans in the horse’s life. At bare minimum, that includes rider, owner, farm owner/manager, vet, farrier, and likely an instructor or trainer. At a more expansive level, it may include an equine dentist, chiropractor, massage therapist, and horse/farm insurance information. This information should be at the front of the record book, easy to find in case of emergency.

Identification and Horse Details

This allows quick and accurate identification of the horse being recorded, and serves a couple of purposes. First, it is good practice to be familiar with the ways that a horse is described; colors, markings, patterns, breeds, etc. Secondly, in a situation where there are multiple horses on one property, it allows a horse to be identified from the herd.

Animal’s Sex, Color, Pattern, and Markings

This is the most basic way to identify a given horse.

Age, Height, and Weight

This provides a bit more detail, but these facts can be changeable and should be updated routinely. Even adult horses can measure different heights with improved or diminished condition. Copies of any height certificates should be included.

girl and horse
Photo by Kenny Webster on Unsplash

Color Photos

Color photos of your horse are indispensable, and should be updated regularly. The photos should be “conformation shots” that represent your horse clearly and accurately, standing square from all angles, and also show any particular distinguishing features such as scars or distinctive markings. Photos should be updated annually at minimum. If your horse changes color dramatically with the seasons, it is wise to include both summer and winter examples.

Breed and Bloodline

It is also wise to include a copy of any breed registry certifications in this section. If the animal is a grade, it is worth noting as such, perhaps adding a type descriptor (i.e., grade sport horse, grade stock horse, grade pony, etc.). If the horse is unregistered but the breeding is known, include what specifics you are able.

Other Associations and Affiliations

Copies of certification or registration with other associations that your horse is enrolled with are worth including as well.

Baseline Information

Baseline information is documentation of what is normal from day-to-day. This is the section of the record book that is the most useful for someone unfamiliar with your particular horse. It holds all of the information that will allow an “outsider” to take up the horse’s daily care without confusion.

Feed Schedule

Horses eating from bucket
Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash

This should show the times of feedings, weights of feeds provided (roughage and concentrates, if applicable), and any supplements provided at those times. It is also worth documenting changes to that feed schedule and “menu,” as well as the reasons for making those changes. I include a feed bag tag or label in this area for each product in my horse’s ration. If you have had a hay or pasture analysis done, include the results here, too.

Routine Care Documentation

This area is for tracking vaccinations, deworming, farrier work, dentistry, etc. Don’t fear detail in your entries — include type of dewormer and dosage, size and type of shoes, vaccine injected and dosage. Also track the costs of this care. This is also a great place to record baseline vital signs; pulse, temperature, and respiration. Another item to include here is any specific medical condition your horse may have, and the general support plan for that condition. These would be something like arthritis, heaves, Cushing’s disease, etc.

Farrier filing hoof
Photo by Jonathan Bean on Unsplash

Emergency Care Documentation

This area is for less routine care. It might include serious injuries or illnesses that require emergency attention from vet or farrier. It might also include less serious first-aid situations that you are able to treat yourself.

Note: It is a good idea to be able to handle basic “first aid” for your horse yourself. Some things just don’t merit a farm call. HOWEVER, I am NOT advocating becoming your own vet, here. Knowing when to bring in a professional is imperative, and it is always better to be safe than sorry!! When in doubt, call your vet!!

You will be much better able to help your vet help your horse if you have immediate access to information such as baseline vitals (in comparison to worrisome readings), medication history including dates and dosages, and feed information. All of these things can assist your vet in coming to an accurate diagnosis and prescribing the best treatment.

Be sure to note the date of emergency care, the nature and symptoms of the illness or injury, care provided, and costs of materials and medication if applicable. This information may be useful to have later.

Conditioning Plan/Event Schedule

Pinto horse and rider
Photo by Sarah Bedu on Unsplash

If you are asking any type of athleticism of your horse, you should have some sort of conditioning plan. This is where you document your horse’s current condition and the activities that you pursue to improve it. For example, you might note that you are working on flatwork, with a focus on circles and introducing basic lateral work, the number of minutes per session, and the number of sessions per week. This area should also document changes in condition, based on body condition score and changes in vital signs at rest and at work. The key to improvement in any field is to record progress so that you can see it.

You can also add planned events to this area; lessons, clinics, shows, organized trail rides, etc. Note the dates, details, participation costs/entry fees, and outcomes.

Expenses

This is the “painful” part, and pretty self explanatory. I break my expenses up into “feed/board” and “tack and equipment.” Feed and Board includes routine purchases that are usually pretty stable from month to month. Grain and hay, supplements, bedding, and fly control are on this list. Tack and Equipment are less routine purchases, and I also include things that I purchase for myself like riding clothing and helmets in that section.

Income

If you are lucky enough to earn any income at all from your equestrian pursuits, congratulations!! Maybe you earn some money offering your horse as a lesson mount, or as a lease. Any competition winnings, scholarship money awarded, etc. can go in this area.

Other Considerations

Multiple Horses?

I personally keep records for two horses in one record book binder. Sections that typically apply to both horses (feed and board expenses, tack and equipment expenses) I separate under a “General” tab, and each horse has his own tab for his specific information for easy reference. This system can easily expand to accommodate as many animals as necessary.

Formatting: Analog or Digital?

Ah, the eternal question… should you keep your record book in an “old fashioned” book or binder? Or as an electronic file, using an app or creating a spreadsheet?

Digital takes up less space, is easy to edit, and may include the option to keep your records on your phone for near-constant accessibility. However, template options are less plentiful; you will likely need to design your own system. Depending on your level of tech-savvy, designing your system and layout yourself might be a bonus.

Analog may be bulkier, but offers consistent accessibility. You’ll never have to worry about dead batteries, and you’ll still have all of the information even if the power is out or you don’t have WiFi. There are also a number of published planners and diaries as well as Google-available documents that you can print and use as a template, including 4-H Record Books and Pony Club books.

How Long?

Another consideration is how long to keep your record book. I personally keep a “live” book for each calendar year, starting a fresh one in January. I pull the previous year’s pages out of the binder and “archive” them in the file cabinet with my other horse-related documents. There are merits to starting at different points in the year; a spring kickoff for the new riding season, or wrapping a year in the fall at the end of the busy season both make sense. That really is up to the individual and what works.

Storage?

Where to keep your record book? The barn is often the easiest location to keep the book for in-the-moment updates… however, unless you are blessed with a barn office/lounge or a climate controlled tack room, the barn is usually where paper goes to die.

I keep my record book in my house at my personal desk. Less immediately convenient sometimes, but I avoid losing info by getting it wet or dirty.

Conclusion

Formal recordkeeping is a habit that I picked up early through 4-H, and is also promoted through USPC and other organizations. There are a number of benefits to keeping detailed records of our animals. We then have a detailed health and maintenance history for reference. We can spot trends and more accurately provide the care we need, when we need to. Tracking expenses allows us to more wisely budget for our equestrian needs. In case of emergency, we have everything we need to help our professional support team help our horse. With all of these benefits, why would you not want to keep a record book for your horse?

Do you keep a stable record book? Did you pick up the practice through a program like 4-H or USPC? Is it something that you started doing on your own? How has your record book helped you make your horse’s life better? Is a record book something that you don’t use now, but want to start? How do you think it will benefit you and your horsekeeping? Share your thoughts in the comments, or drop an email!

Thanks for reading, and, as always, I should be riding!

Are You and Your Horse Ready? 3 Crucial Stages To Preparing for Winter

Are You and Your Horse Ready? 3 Crucial Stages to Preparing for Winter

I know, I know… it’s still August. There is still summer left to enjoy. Thank goodness for that. Preparing for winter is the last thing that I want to think about. You probably agree.

Preparing for winter girl feeding horse

But, before you know it, fall (and winter… grr…) will be upon us again. And now is the time to start preparing for winter. You don’t want to be caught with your pants down, especially if you live in more northerly latitudes! Read on for tips and tricks to make the most of the time you have left to prepare for the changing seasons!

Pre-Season Inventory

Stock and Source Consumables

The most important thing is to ensure that you have adequate fodder stocked or reliably sourced for the winter. If you, like me, live in a latitude where your horse’s primary roughage source will be hay for several months, you need to have enough now to get you as far as next year’s first opportunity to cut more. After September or so, what has been harvested is all that there will be for the year. Hay and similar locally harvested forage will only become more expensive and more scarce from now until early summer next year. Also consider your bedding type and sources. Depending on your material of choice, bedding may also become scarce or higher in price later in the winter months.

Finnhorse stallions lunch time
By Sini Merikallio (Flickr: Finnhorse stallions lunch time) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Equipment Check

Now is the time to get your winter gear out of storage and check everything over.  You want to be sure that you have what you need in good fit and state of repair before you need to use it. Hopefully when you put these things away last spring, you didn’t store anything that needed repaired or replaced, and you used a storage method and location that kept your gear away from pests, molds, and other hazards. However, best laid plans and all of that… There is still plenty of time to arrange for repairs or order replacements before you’ll really need these things if they did not survive off-season storage unscathed. Be sure to inspect your horse’s winter weight blankets and rugs, and also your own winter weather clothing and footwear.

'Cavalli della Madonna' im Marstall des Klosters Einsiedeln 2013-01-26 14-11-05 (P7700)
‘Cavalli della Madonna’ im Marstall des Klosters Einsiedeln 2013-01-26 14-11-05 (P7700) © Roland Fischer, Zürich (Switzerland) – Mail notification to: roland_zh(at)hispeed(dot)ch / Wikimedia Commons

The major seasonal change is also a great time to audit your equine first aid kit to ensure that all supplies are stocked and within date.

Since summer isn’t quite over, autumn can be a great time to stock up on items for next year as long as they are nonperishable. Consider taking advantage of end-of-season sales on fly masks, summer sheets, some fly sprays and traps (check shelf life), etc. If it will keep through the winter, grab it while the prices are good instead of when they are re-released in the spring.

“Winterize” Your Horse

This is a great time to touch base with your vet. You can schedule any fall-specific vaccinations that are recommended for your area, and also a general once-over for your horse. A fecal egg count can be worth the investment to help your vet help you coordinate an appropriate deworming program for the season and your horse’s needs.

Horse in snow
Photo by Erin Dolson on Unsplash

Early fall is the best time to start adjusting your plan for your “special needs” horse for the winter months. Harder keepers get harder to keep without fresh pasture. Easier keepers get rounder by the day with lessened exercise. Hard frozen footing makes your arthritic senior a bit stiffer. Increased confinement can bring on or exacerbate a number of health conditions. Taking steps to support your horse before the seasons change is a vital part of preparing for winter.

Give yourself time to make any needed dietary changes gradually. Consider scheduling a dental exam/float this fall so your horse starts the season getting the most out of his teeth. Consult with your farrier about the best program for your horses feet given your winter needs; will you carry shoes through the winter months? Will you switch to borium, or to studs, to increase traction? Pads to better absorb shock on frozen ground? Or is barefoot a better bet for you?

Bring your Barn into Winter Mode

The Tack Room

Like you did last spring, deep clean and safely store seasonal gear that you won’t need through the colder months. Your storage should protect your equipment from dust and dirt, as well as pests and rodents. If you take a winter showing/riding hiatus, this is the perfect time to break down tack for the most thorough possible cleaning and inspection. Winter can be a good time to send tack out for specialty repairs, like stitch work or reflocking.

Form a gameplan for cleaning bulky fabrics like sheets and blankets. Most household machines won’t handle loads that size, and many laundromats have policies against horse blankets. Now is the time to find a service that will accept your barn laundry, or do a last deep-scrub with the garden hose while it still gets warm enough to dry blankets outside.

If you’re in a climate that freezes, collect your liquids and store them in a warmer location before the temperature in your barn drops too low. Not only does this prevent messy burst containers, but some products lose their effectiveness or consistency after a freeze-thaw cycle. For liquid products that you use regularly throughout the winter, like waterless shampoos or liquid supplements, invest in a tote to carry them conveniently from house to barn and back until they can live safely in the barn again.

Pasture and Buildings

This is the perfect time to give your infrastructure a general once-over and make any basic repairs and improvements to carry you through the winter. Replace or reset wobbly fence posts before the ground freezes. Check your barn for gaps or drafts, and for adequate ventilation. Cobweb removal can be a war of attrition, but take the opportunity of total turnout for one last dust-raising deep clean while you can. This will not only look tidier, but reduce the risk of fire.

Winter horse
Photo by David Preston on Unsplash

Also check your wiring before you plug in electric buckets or trough heaters. While you should enlist a professional electrician to make repairs, your own sharp eye can spot potential hazards ahead of time. If you haven’t already got them, ground-fault-interruption (GFI) outlets are a small price to pay for peace of mind. These are the same outlets installed in bathrooms for safety around water.

Brace Yourself: Winter is Coming

While preparing for winter is a lot less exciting than preparing for spring, a little extra time now is well worth the effort. By following these steps you’ll set yourself and your horses up for a more comfortable winter season. You’ll have less stress, and more time to enjoy what the colder months have to offer: check out this post on Beating the Winter Blues for lots of ideas to not only survive, but thrive in your horsemanship goals this winter!

In the meantime… it is still August… and there’s a lot of summer and fall to go. Like me, you really should be riding.