In the 21st Century we have many gadgets and gizmos to help us in our daily work around the farm or stable. Apps and mobile devices that are always at hand can help us record anything—written or verbal—on the spot. There are computer programs for stable and lesson management. But the old-fashioned idea of writing by hand in a journal isn’t outdated in the 21st Century. Logging everything your horses experience is a reliable method of tracking equine athletes’ progress in any discipline.
Whether you call it a diary or logbook, you can manage all aspects of a horse’s well-being and training. Writing on paper maintains a permanent record, for your own horses and those you manage for clients. Those records can be transferred to a computer or recordkeeping software, or the written record can be kept intact.
Document your daily tasks for each performance or school horse, starting with details of exercise, feeding and watering, veterinary treatments, hoof care and turnout. Tracking all elements of each horse’s care and handling gives you insights into the animal’s development, and also how the horse recovers from setbacks.
In this article we’ll talk to two international-level riders who explain their recordkeeping methodology and how they meticulously record management decisions. Both prefer to maintain paper documents for reference and as proof of their actions, but you can take their ideas and keep records as is best suited for your management style.
Sanjay Bagai, Zeitgeist Equestrian
Sanjay Bagai manages a barn of a dozen world-class jumpers in Petaluma, California.
Active on the USEF A circuit, he and his wife, Phoebe Lang, take their horses to Canada’s international tournaments and also tour Europe every summer.
Bagai has represented India internationally. At the 2014 World Equestrian Games he rode his Belgian Warmblood jumper K2.
He and Lang are fastidious about caring for their horses, whether active competitors or retired stars. “We are very systematic,” he said about the team at Zeitgeist Equestrian. “We have a nutritionist who comes in once every three months to review the program. The hay is tested by chemical analysis. We make our own grain, starting with all-natural, pesticide-free grain. All kilocalories are measured for each horse.”
Horses get oxygen twice daily. Regular thermographs can detect any inflammation, and horses are also tested for ulcers. Water intake is measured by flow meters on automatic waterers.
“Every horse has a binder,” explained Bagai. This notebook contains all documentation, beginning with notes from the horse’s purchase exam and including printouts of records with the FEI and USEF.
He described the new horse questionnaire documenting each athlete they add to their barn: “Feed, tack, trailering, bandages, blanketing, which bits or draw reins, workload, farrier, vices, and dentistry … it is all the records.”
Bagai said, “How we maintain the horses is a system for each horse. All worming and vaccinations are designed around each horse, depending on the show schedule and all veterinary notes. First we go to the book to see if the horse has any chronic issues.”
The record also includes complete imaging, with 60 slides per horse. When Zeitgeist hauls jumpers to a show, they bring each horse’s binder. “We can go through any issues before the show,” said Bagai. “So we have the history and can add what’s new.”
He adds that with this documentation, “There is nothing they can do to surprise me. The system resolves 95% of issues.”
Besides minimizing risks, the records can predict the horse’s condition and continued soundness.
“It’s a triangle of fitness, nutrition and soundness as a result of good care and health,” he said. “We tackle these three before we push the horse in training and competition. The theory is they can jump better; the happier they are, the sounder, and the fitter, the better they jump.”
He added, “We are crazy about our horses! They get every opportunity to succeed and flourish.”
RobinWalker, Maute House Farm
At Maute House Farm, Grass Lake, Michigan, Robin Walker produces young event horses.
Originally from England, he has competed internationally in eventing and Grand Prix jumping. Walker is one of the first US Eventing Association Level 4 Certified Instructors and on the faculty of USEA’s Instructor Certification Program Teaching Workshops. He is also active in the USEA’s Future Event Horse program. And he’s a breeder, with the Irish Sport Horse Rowdy Friend a product of Maute House Farm.
Walker defined an important part of being a horseman: “The quality of your daily work program.”
He noted that in his teaching of instructors, he hears riders say they just want to compete in events. “But first you have to be a horseman,” is his response. “In eventing, you have to consider all the development questions. Talk about the rigidity of hay, grain, veterinary, farrier, and the daily work program, and your ability to judge where the horse is.”
Walker relies on a daily diary for every horse he has in training. “Every single thing that they do is written down every day,” he said. “The reason I do that is I can’t do my billing if I don’t do that, because I can’t remember. The other reason is so that if there is a problem, I can go back to see what the horse did in the previous week or 10 days.”
In his diary he names every horse and what it did that day. His logbook contains all management actions—what he and his team did in the barn, and what they did to prepare the horse for competition.
Horses start days walking an hour both directions on the hot walker. “Then they are ridden 25-30 minutes every day,” said Walker.
Eventing requires gradually conditioning the athlete, with trainers exercising horses in “sets.” A series of trotting, or trot sets, can mix minutes of slow trot, walk and fast trot. Canter sets can be three minutes cantering, then walk, and repeating the cantering. Walker said, “On the canter sets, they all get written down, what they did and how many days apart you do it.”
His farrier comes every week, with individual horses on a four-week schedule. “I staple his bill into the diary the week he was there, so I don’t forget and one horse gets five weeks instead of four,” said Walker. “It’s the same when the vet or dentist comes, and all worming schedules and Adequan schedules for the entire year.”
He emphasized the importance of being disciplined and writing every day. “The real benefit is when it comes to trouble. Everyone is happy when things are going well. The real benefit is you can look back, if you’re that disciplined. You can see what went on, any given time in the year.”
Writing changes is crucial. Did you receive your farmer’s next cutting of hay? Or did you switch one horse to a different bit?
One situation could be weaning foals. Walker commented that maybe one foal is more upset, and a sedative can calm it. “Later you realize you didn’t write it down and all of a sudden you’ve got a massive swelling in the neck. Where did that come from? Then the $300 vet bill later—you wish you would have written it down.”
When he hauls horses to Florida for events, he maintains a board kept in his truck. On the road, he’s managing not only horses, but his students who are showing. On the board he records schooling, management and the show schedule. “The board is for every horse, every day, and every thing. I know where the horses are, and my students know what they are doing so they can arrive on time.”
These two barn managers practice diligence in documenting every detail of daily care. Writing on paper each day captures the horses’ condition, without squinting at a small screen or running out of power. But those written comments can also be documented electronically if that is your desire, or written notes can be transferred to electronic records.
Commenting daily addresses the goal Bagai described for every athlete: “Is the horse fit, healthy, sound and pain-free?”