'It's all about the horse'

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The American Association of Equine Practitioners celebrated its 50th annual convention Dec. 4-8 in Denver, with tributes to the association's past and a renewed focus on ethics, equine welfare, and state-of-the-art techniques.

A record-breaking turnout of about 6,300 veterinarians, students, technicians, exhibitors, and guests attended the convention, which boasted professional development seminars, hands-on workshops, and dozens of scientific sessions on dentistry, sports medicine, surgery, lameness, and many other aspects of equine health.

Senator Wayne Allard, a veterinarian and U.S. senator representing Colorado, welcomed attendees to the state during the opening session.

"Your role in your community is highly respected," Sen. Allard said. "You do make a difference, and people recognize that."

Dr. Larry R. Bramlage, the outgoing president of the AAEP, introduced a 50th anniversary commemorative DVD themed "It's all about the horse." The DVD gave an overview of the organization's history and its plans for the future. Two books commemorating the AAEP's history also were unveiled: "Horse Doctors," a coffee-table book sponsored by Bayer Animal Health, featuring photography by David Stocklein; and a book tracing the history of the AAEP, written by Dr. Charlie Vail, who built on the 1979 AAEP history written by the late Gen. Wayne O. "Sage" Kester.

President Bramlage called the AAEP's 50th year the end of the beginning, noting that the association has become a leader in the horse industry and veterinary medicine.

"We are now called upon to lead as often as we follow," he said. He noted that the AAEP's tough stance on illegal compounding has started a trend among veterinary associations, and that the AAEP has taken the lead and joined with other groups, including the AVMA, to fight legislation that would outlaw horse slaughter. Instead of banning slaughter, the association hopes to partner with industry groups to look for ways to reduce the number of unwanted horses. To facilitate that effort, the association is holding a summit on the issue next spring, with more than 30 other industry organizations expected to attend.

The keynote speaker, Rick Pitino, the former coach of the men's basketball team at the University of Kentucky and a former NBA coach, urged attendees to continue to strive toward excellence by staying positive and never giving up. Pitino, who currently coaches the University of Louisville men's basketball team and wrote the best-selling business book "Success Is a Choice," also owns several racehorses.

He drew parallels between basketball and horse racing, saying that horses/athletes are 85 percent of the sport, coaches/trainers are 10 percent, and referees/jockeys are 5 percent. He said passionate and positive players have the most success and improve the performance of those around them. He also emphasized the importance of communicating and listening more than one speaks.

"Being positive all the time is the key to your being extraordinary," Pitino said. "Your personality is going to get you business or lose you business."

News of the profession

Dr. Bramlage and Dr. John Madigan gave a rapid-fire update on the latest developments in the profession during the Kester News Hour, which is funded by a grant from the estate of Gen. Kester.

The continuing westward spread of the West Nile virus topped the list of developments in the equine industry this year, Dr. Madigan said. He noted a reduction in the number of cases of WNV infection in some states, presumably because of the development of resistance in horses that have had subclinical infections. He pointed out that it is difficult to predict the future of the disease, because of its complex epidemiology. He noted that studies of the West Nile vaccine's effectiveness published in JAVMA in 2004 have shown the vaccine provides rapid protection.

Dr. Bramlage described results of a study of bone density in adolescent women that may provide valuable information for horse owners making decisions about training adolescent racehorses. The study, reported by T. Lloyd et al in the June 2004 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics, found that exercise was more important to maintaining bone density than calcium intake was.

"You don't have to leave an adolescent out in the field," Dr. Bramlage said.

Dr. Madigan discussed two new equine conditions that were described this past year-equine malignant hyperthermia and glycogen branching enzyme deficiency. Dr. Monica Aleman described equine malignant hyperthermia in a session at the convention and is lead author of an abstract in the AAEP convention proceedings.  

The maladjusted foal

Peter Rossdale, PhD, a world-renowned equine reproduction expert, gave the Frank J. Milne State-of-the-Art Lecture on "The Maladjusted Foal: Influences of Intrauterine Growth Retardation and Birth Trauma." Dr. Rossdale explored the effect that intrauterine problems can have on a horse's lifelong health and performance. He highlighted the problems associated with intrauterine growth retardation and gave an overview of the research on this issue. He also explored the risks to the fetus during parturition, and the problems that can occur in the neonatal foal. His complete presentation was published in the proceedings of the 50th Annual Convention of the AAEP.  

Ethical standards raised

At the AAEP's annual General Membership Meeting, members reflected on the association's history and recent successes. 

"The AAEP has created a community of like-minded individuals," said David L. Foley, the executive director of the association. He gave a brief presentation on the status of the strategic plan the association developed in 2002. He highlighted the progress that has been made toward achieving the goals of the strategic plan, including the following:

  • A more than 120 percent increase in student membership over the past two years
  • The development of a continuing education meeting that focuses on a single issue
  • Increased small group offerings at the convention and other AAEP meetings
  • A successful branding campaign that has raised the profile of the association and led to the development of strategic alliances with four other equine industry organizations
  • Increased owner education through the Web site, www.myhorsematters.com
  • A 15 percent to 18 percent increase in the retention of student members as they become veterinarians
  • The successful launch of the Avenues internship program

In 2005, the strategic plan will be updated, Foley said.

"The existence of your organization has made things better for the horse, plain and simple," he said.

As part of a renewed emphasis on ethics in the organization, members approved revisions to the association's bylaws that clarify and expand the grounds for denial or cancellation of AAEP membership. The revisions require members to self-report any disciplinary action against their veterinary or racetrack license on their AAEP application or renewal form. The revisions also state that failure to self-report is grounds for denial or cancellation of membership.

The revisions also state that the following list may constitute grounds for denial or cancellation of membership:

  • Disciplinary action against an applicant's/member's veterinary or racetrack license by a regulatory agency in the form of fines, probation, suspension, or revocation
  • Formal disciplinary action taken by organizations governing horse shows and breed registries in relation to the practice of veterinary medicine
  • Acts of fraud, misrepresentation, deceit, or animal cruelty as found by civil, criminal, or administrative law courts

New officers and board members took office at the close of the meeting on Dec. 7. The new officers are Drs. Scott E. Palmer of Clarksburg, N.J., president; Thomas D. Brokken of Cooper City, Fla., president-elect; Doug Corey of Adams, Ore., vice president; Larry R. Bramlage of Lexington, Ky., immediate past president; and John S. Mitchell of Boca Raton, Fla., treasurer. The new board members are Drs. G. Kent Carter, representing District VII; Scott Taylor, District VIII; Daniel G. Kenney, District X; and Michelle LeBlanc, director-at-large.