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.
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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!