Keeping good records can help horse owners track behavioral and medical problems.
Kelly Hess realized her barrel racing horse's performance suffered after she purchased a new saddle. Journal photo.
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.
“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.
Read the rest of this article at America's Horse Daily and learn how Kelly keeps her records organized.