It’s all about the horse ... and the client

AAEP initiatives focus on business practices, creating more horse owners
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Horse veterinarians have a lot to be excited about in 2014, thanks to two new initiatives, one geared toward creating new horse owners and another toward helping practitioners keep their current clients satisfied.

These programs were announced during the opening session of the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ Annual Convention, held Dec. 7-11, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. It was the fourth-largest meeting in the organization’s history, attracting 6,592 attendees, including 3,296 veterinarians, students, and veterinary technicians. The AAEP currently has 7,600 veterinarian members and 1,550 student members.

Dr. Jeff Blea, incoming AAEP president, said, “Convention is more than education. It’s about debating issues affecting the industry, supporting colleagues, and giving you tools that affect you in practice. As veterinarians, we need patients to practice, and we must have families involved in these activities. We are supporting a new campaign, called Time to Ride, to get more people involved in horse activities.”

Cowboy and raconteur Buck Brannaman was the keynote speaker at the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ 2013 Annual Convention. (Photos courtesy of AAEP)

Time to Ride ( is intended to promote riding and horses, specifically among mothers and their children. It was created by a coalition of horse organizations, including the American Horse Council, AAEP, American Quarter Horse Association, National Thoroughbred Racing Association, United States Equestrian Federation, and Zoetis.

The website helps the public find horse-riding lessons and camps, riding trails, rodeos, fairs, equestrian events, and shows. Locations of equine practitioners will be added soon.

“(Generation) Xers and (Generation) Yers don’t want to just ride, they want to connect. Therapeutic programs with horses are growing by leaps and bounds, mostly led by young female entrepreneurs,” said Patti Colbert, a spokeswoman for Time to Ride. “We have to change our attitudes and tactics to blend with these new-age decision makers.”

Colbert said baby boomers have been sustaining the industry for 50 years, but a generational swing is happening. An estimated 8,000 boomers will turn 65 every day for the next decade and a half. It makes more sense to market to the non–horse-owning woman, she said.

Time to Ride events that took place in 2013 at the Austin Rodeo and Del Mar Racetrack Family Day proved successful. Time to Ride is also partnering with the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and the Mom Bloggers Network for greater exposure.

Time to Ride is a new initiative by the horse industry created to promote riding and horses, specifically among mothers and their children. It started late last year.

Future of practice

The AAEP is focusing not only on attracting more clients for its members but also on helping create a long-term, successful relationship with horse owners.

“This year, the AVMA came out with a workforce study that said our practices have room to do more for horses and their owners. The AAEP has developed new tools to help you do just that,” said Dr. Ann E. Dwyer, outgoing AAEP president.

The program AAEP Touch: Tools to Connect to Your Clients and Their Horses ( was launched at the convention. It is based on results from a survey of 6,000 clients conducted by the AAEP in 2012 and on market research. Web-based tools and resources, such as “Top 10 Things Your Clients Told Us” and “The Examination: Creating Satisfied Clients,” give tips that focus on what various clients value in veterinary care.

“It’s not what we as vets think our customers want. It’s what our customers want,” said Dr. Monty McInturff, an AAEP member.

The client survey found, for example, that lameness evaluation skills are critical, and that 24/7 availability is a must.

Dr. Blea said he began hearing positive feedback on the program right after the launch.

“It’s so specific—the research—that it really gives us actionable, easy, tangible ways for members to make a difference. That’s why people are latching on to it. They can see how it can help them,” he said. “Everyone is watching how their practice is changing. They’re waiting for the secret to get to the next step. This is what we’ve developed from owners’ feedback. We need to listen to clients.”

“All they want is peace”

Cowboy and raconteur Buck Brannaman was the keynote speaker at the convention.

Brannaman is an advocate for natural horsemanship, a philosophy of using an understanding of how horses think and communicate to train the horse to accept and work confidently with humans. He’s the inspiration behind the book “The Horse Whisperer” and was the lead horse consultant for the film adaptation.

Brannaman, who hosts training clinics throughout the country, divulged some of his expertise for the crowd. He asked the audience to raise their hands if they’d ever been hurt by a horse; most had.

“What a lot of people don’t appreciate is that being a horse veterinarian is a dangerous job. You’re walking around places where I tell people to avoid—the head and the feet,” he said.

Brannaman explained how a horse’s inclination is to constantly evaluate whether to yield to a person or animal, or vice versa.

“Put a horse in an imaginary rectangle and make it peaceful for him. All they want is peace. So, I say to them, ‘If you do this thing for me, I’ll give you peace.’ ... Teach the horse to yield, and prepare it so you can do your work safely,” Brannaman said. “You can inspire your clients to do these things, and it can make it safer for you, as a result.”

Keeping up to date

Once again, the AAEP convention provided information on noteworthy scientific discoveries and innovations from the past year during the Kester News Hour.

The AAEP is helping its members improve their relationships with horse owners through the new program AAEP Touch: Tools to Connect to Your Clients and Their Horses.

For example, a new upper-respiratory-tract condition was described in the paper “Dynamic ventrorostral displacement of the dorsal laryngeal mucosa in horses” (Veterinary Record 2013;172:501). Dr. Carol K. Clark said in discussing the topic that the mucosa progressively obscures the interarytenoid notch and dorsoaxial portion of the corniculate processes of the arytenoid cartilages during high-speed exercise in Thoroughbreds.

“It’s a new condition to be vigilant for during dynamic endoscopy. The etiology is unclear, and the same with treatment,” she said.

Dr. Patrick M. McCue mentioned a paper that came out recently about using blue light therapy to advance the breeding season (Equine Vet J 2013 Aug 5 [epub ahead of print]). The use of low-intensity blue light from a light mask to a single eye is being looked at as an alternative to maintenance of mares indoors under lights.

All Equine Veterinary Journal and Equine Veterinary Education articles discussed in the Kester News Hour are being offered free online for a limited time at

In addition, equine orthopedics expert Dr. Sue Dyson delivered the Frank J. Milne State-of-the-Art Lecture, Dec. 9. In her talk, “Equine Lameness: Clinical Judgment Meets Advanced Diagnostic Imaging,” she focused on three key areas: the recognition of lameness, new knowledge about the limitations of diagnostic analgesia, and the value of MRI in diagnosing foot-related lameness.

Dr. Dyson is head of equine clinical orthopedics in the Centre for Equine Studies at the Animal Health Trust, Newmarket, England. She has an interest in lameness and poor performance in sport horses, having participated in eventing and show jumping both as a trainer and as a competitor. Her additional area of expertise is diagnostic imaging, including radiography, ultrasonography, scintigraphy, and MRI.

And finally, outgoing president Dr. Dwyer noted that changes to the AAEP’s governance structure that began in 2010 are now complete. “We’re a bit leaner on the leadership level and have widened the opportunities for members to join the herd,” she said.

The AAEP also unveiled a new website design in November.

Related JAVMA content:

AAEP convention covers lots of ground (Feb. 15, 2013)

AAEP announces changes in governance, priorities (Jan. 15, 2012)