Health's Bottom Line
Keeping good records can help horse owners track behavioral and medical problems.
January 25, 2012
From The American Quarter Horse Journal
When Kelly Hess started riding Stats Master in August 2003, the palomino gelding was everything she wanted in a green barrel horse.
Kelly and “Tater” were making good progress, steadily improving their run times. Then in March 2004, they hit a performance wall.
“He quit turning the first barrel,” Kelly says.
That’s a problem for a barrel racer. Kelly began trying to track the issue.
Small improvements would be followed by big disasters.
“It was horrible,” Kelly says. “He was mad, he pawed, he reared in the alley. Horrible, horrible, and it’s not like my horse. He’s very low-key, always. So I knew there was something wrong, and I had no idea what it was.”
Finally Kelly, who videotapes all her barrel runs, sat down and watched the videos of Tater, comparing them to the simple, complete records she keeps on each horse. She tagged the culprit: a new saddle.
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“When I went back and looked at the date I purchased this saddle, that’s when things started falling apart,” she says, pointing to an entry in her books. “That’s February 7. A month later is when I started having problems. The saddle did not fit. It was evidently pinching him really badly in the withers.
“Evidently it was just (pinching on) the first (barrel), because the second and third barrels were fine.”
Keeping good records helped Kelly track her performance issue.
Can it help you?
Dr. Tom R. Lenz, who writes a veterinary health column for the Journal, thinks so.
“Good, accurate health records are a must and help determine any changes in the horse’s health,” he says.
And a change in performance is most likely linked to a change in health.
“By far, the most common cause of an unexpected performance decline or refusal to do tasks would be lameness or some type of pain,” Dr. Lenz says. “Osteoarthritis, tendon injuries or navicular disease all cause horses to cut back the intensity of their performance.”
Burnout would be a second reason for performance to decline, Dr. Lenz says, requiring time off from intense work for recovery.
The third reason – improper tack fit – is closely related to the first reason, pain.
“This is a more common problem than we have previously been aware of and causes pain as the horse performs,” Dr. Lenz says.
When your horse’s performance changes, it’s time to consult your equine veterinarian.
“A good thorough examination by your veterinarian is the first step in evaluating the horse to determine the problem,” Dr. Lenz says.
Kelly’s instinct to check her videos was a good one. Dr. Lenz says the horse owner and veterinarian can put such information to work when tracking performance issues.
“Previous videos would provide a comparison of how the horse used to move and how it currently moves, which would be beneficial,” he says.
Kelly keeps her records as a simple computer document listing of services that she can hand to her accountant at year’s end. She keeps up with money coming in – barrel race winnings – and money going out in separate lists by date. She has lists for veterinary and chiropractic services; tack; feed and supplements; barn improvements; entry fees; and miscellaneous.
In addition to the routine changes listed in this article, keep records of your breeding operations. For information about the genetics behind coat colors, download Quarter Horse Coat Colors, a 12-part series.
For example, the veterinary services page lists the date, veterinarian, a brief description of the treatment, the mileage involved, her check number and the amount. As she writes the checks, she types the information into her records. It’s a simple system that works for her.
Consult your accountant for the best way to organize your horse records.
Dr. Lenz suggests horse owners keep their health records, at least, by date.
Although your veterinarian should have those treatment records, you can duplicate them at home.
“It’s a good idea for the owner to keep records on things they do themselves, such as dewormings,” he says. “It depends on how many horses you have and what you do with them as to the amount of detail you include in the record. Not eating, a decrease in performance and respiratory infections are things that should be noted.”
You and your equine practitioner can look at the list and determine whether there is a pattern.
Kelly determined her pattern, and that pattern determined her course of action: her saddle hit the auction block, and she bought a new one.
“(The seller) told me I could try it first,” Kelly says. “I went and put it on my horse. Within 20 minutes, my horse was a completely different horse.”
Even people who aren’t computer-inclined can create health records for their horses.
Most veterinarians have owner health records they can provide the owner to track routine care such as vaccinations and dewormings, Dr. Lenz says.
“In addition, most animal health companies have tri-fold medical records that they hand out,” he says. “The best advice I can give is to have the owners talk to their own veterinarians about specific medical record recommendations for their horses.”
Those requirements will vary from veterinarian to veterinarian and the different parts of the country where different vaccinations, for example, might be needed.
Dr. Lenz, a past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners who currently chairs the group’s welfare committee, suggested that horse owners keep the records, by date, for as long they own the horse.
“They should consider transferring the records to the new owner if they sell a horse,” he says.