The Importance of Health Records

Keeping track of your horse’s health records is important, not just for your sanity, but for the sake of your horse and his health professionals. While the professionals typically keep some records of their own, you cannot rely on them to keep in-depth notes for any length of time – that’s your responsibility as your horse’s caretaker. It’s probably tough for your farrier to look back and know when, over the past two years, your horse had that abscess. Or for your veterinarian to know what your horse had an allergic reaction to several months ago.

The devil’s in the details
When people think about keeping health and wellness records, they tend to think about just writing down annual vaccinations and deworming protocols. But there are plenty of details you should consider including:
Vaccinations: Include the type of vaccine, the brand, whether it was an initial shot or a booster. It can also be helpful to remove the vaccine label and staple it to your records, so you have a batch number in case your horse has a reaction.
Deworming: Did you use a natural or chemical product? What product did you use (active ingredients, brand)?
Therapeutic visits: These include chiropractic, massage and acupuncture. What areas of your horse needed work? What therapist did you use? Did the therapist leave you with any “homework”? Did s/he recommend another treatment in a certain amount of time?
Hoofcare: What did your horse have done? Which farrier did you use? Did the farrier leave any comments or suggestions (hoof soaking, etc)?
Saddlefit: Did your horse change shape? What areas of the saddle needed to be changed?
Any illness or signs of illness, no matter how small: Record those odd looking bug bites, hives, lumps and bumps, discharge, coughing, stocking up, odd behavior – everything! If anything persists, your veterinarian will want to have an idea of when it began, and what may have caused it.
Any injuries, however minor: Cuts, scrapes, strains, bumps, abscesses, etc. are important to record. Your horse coming in with a few scrapes may not seem like a big deal, but a few days later when he seems muscle sore, they could help indicate if he got too rambunctious during turnout, or cast himself in the stall.
First aid protocols: Make note of how you treat various bumps, scrapes and seemingly minor coughs or colds, including what products you used, how much, and for how long, if applicable. Record any vitals that you take. Did you poultice a swollen leg, cold hose or use a heat wrap? Just as important, what helped, and what did not? These seemingly minor details can really help down the road, whether you are trying to treat a similar issue again, or your veterinarian is trying to help you get to the bottom of something.
Feed changes: Track what you are feeding your horse, and how much. Note when you start a horse on a supplement, how much you are giving him, and if you notice any positive or negative differences.
General condition: While a whole different article, keeping track of your horse’s general condition is also quite helpful. Once a month or so, take the time to check his weight, coat condition, overall health, attitude and so on. Make special notes any time you notice things like a drop in weight, loss in coat “bloom”, etc.
Medications: List any medications your horse is on, what they are (including brand, strength and so on), the dosages and length of time he is to be on them. Record any reactions (behavioral or physical), and whether there was an improvement (especially if you are trialing different medications to see what your horse responds best to).
Any significant incidents: Did your mare go through a particularly strong heat cycle? Did your horse jump out of the paddock, get cast in the stall, get stuck in the trailer? Crash over a jump, buck at the canter depart? All these things can be important. A month down the road, when you can’t figure out why your horse won’t pick up his left lead and the chiropractor asks if he incurred any trauma in the last while, you can say, “Yes, on February 3 he got cast in his stall – he never seemed sore, but perhaps he did do some damage.” There is no one “best” way to keep your records – different options work for different people.

There are many ways to go about keeping health records; some like to keep a notebook for each horse, or a spreadsheet on the computer. Computer programs are available for keeping track of everything related to your horse and farm. Some veterinarians provide folders, and you can also purchase books specifically for horse health record keeping.

Discover what works best for you, and run with it! You can’t keep too many notes, and you may be thankful for all those details down the road. Your horse and your horse’s professionals will thank you too.

Isabella Edwards is an equine enthusiast and avid competitor living in Ontario, Canada. She and her mare compete at the provincial level in both dressage and hunter/jumper.