(pictured: Buttercup and me in August on one of her good days last year. A good day meant that she was sound enough to ride on soft dirt)
Let's start with a basic definition. A hoof journal is a log of how your horse's hooves look over time and what type of trimming or shoeing plan your farrier uses and why.
It is my opinion that a hoof journal is the first step a horse owner can take in becoming an advocate for his horse's health.
It doesn't matter if your horse is sound or lame. Now is the time to start a hoof journal. Your basic tools are a camera and some way to record the information. You can do it the old fashioned way in a notebook, or make it pretty and put it in a scrapbook, or even make a video journal. Whatever is easiest for you.
My hoof journal is a bit of a mess. I have a notebook that I take with me for farrier and vet appointments and I have a folder of pictures on my computer (I'm sure I'm taking up 75% of my memory!). I keep saying I'm going to print it out ... but I don't. But it does work for me as is, even if it isn't kept in one place.
So, why do you need a hoof journal?
Because, as a layman, it is really easy to confuse what your farrier is saying. If you take notes, it will force you to pay attention and it will force you to ask questions. Also, as we know, as horses progress through training, change barns, change farriers, etc., they will undergo changes that could affect their overall hoof health. Not to mention, if something ever does go wrong (or you are rehabbing and something goes right), you need a "baseline" of what the hooves looked like to begin with.
How do you start?
Through trial and error, figure out what is best for you. At your next farrier's appointment, ask about how and why your horse's hooves are trimmed a certain way. Write that down. After your farrier leaves, take pictures. Please don't take pictures while your farrier is there -- pay him and let him leave. You want side shots of all four hooves. To get this get as far to the ground as possible. You don't want to have a downward angle on this. Then take front and back shots of all four hooves. Those are your basics.
If you want to get really involved take pictures of the soles (pictured: Buttercup's sole Dec. 17, 2008, after her first trim with her new farrier), but this is a bit harder to do. You want the lens to be parallel to the sole so that the hoof represents its true self and isn't distorted.
My hoof journal takes about two minutes every 6-8 weeks to update. So we aren't talking about a huge investment of time.
If you want to get really detailed in the rehabbing process, you can right down when the horse was lame and when the horse was sound. Or when you started a supplement (from my notes I know that Buttercup started a supplement Oct. 24, 2008).
Anytime I talk to the farrier or vet over the phone, I take notes and put them in the journal. I write down exactly what they say. This really isn't for me, but for the other professionals that might have to hear what the other professional is saying.
Hoof journals will also create an awareness and open up a dialog with professionals. To me, it is just as important as putting on a helmet before I go for a ride ... not because that helmet is going to save me from every disaster, but because it reminds me that what I'm doing is risky behavior and I shouldn't be complacent. Every time your horse is trimmed or shod, you risk your horse's health and you shouldn't be complacent, even if you have the best farrier in the world.
What would happen if your farrier was injured and you had to take your horse to a new farrier? Would you be able to tell him the nuances of your horse's hoof? Or would you have to trust that he'd figure it out the first time? Why take that chance?
On a side note, I have an exciting update about Buttercup, but I'm waiting to finish this post and run out to the barn to snap a few photos.