A.A.E.P. Farrier Liaison Committee Meeting

By Henry Heymering, RJF

published in ANVIL Magazine, March 1999

I attended the AAEP’s Farrier Liaison Committee meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, on Saturday, December 5, 1998. I was quite surprised and a bit insulted by the meeting. Liaison is “linking up or connecting parts of the whole.” There was almost no liaison to be found at the meeting. The only invited farrier was Dave Ferguson as the representative of the American Farriers Association — but he was not there. If he had been, he would have had to sit in the audience, rather than at the committee table.

No liaison here. This was a meeting of, by and for veterinarians — veterinarians who, by and large, just don’t get it. The focus of the meeting seemed more about having the veterinarians stay on top and in control. Concern was voiced that the farrier was the not-too-distant second place in a survey of those whom horse owners call for routine horse health advice (not just shoeing). For some reason, the veterinarians seemed surprised that horse owners would rely on the advice of equine professionals whom they see on a regular basis; or maybe they are just afraid of losing control.

By the end of the meeting, the group resolved to take two actions: 1) to make a syllabus (course outline) for veterinarians to cover all the necessary knowledge in farriery (which is just barely touched on in vet school); and 2) to make a dictionary of farrier terms so that veterinarians can know and use the proper terms when speaking with farriers.

Arrogant and ignorant is how this struck me. Do you think any of them suggested working with a farrier on either of these projects? No; none of them suggested that. Veterinarians’ formal education on farriery is almost nonexistent, but rather than direct their members to make use of the farrier’s expertise, they determine to write a course outline to decide and teach themselves what they lack — without any input from farriers. Likewise, although there is an already-published “Dictionary of Farrier Terms” (by Dave Millwater, RMF), the veterinarians determine to write their own, without any input from farriers. I suppose they would like to tell our profession what terms we should use!

The topic of the AFA written tests came up. The AAEP Farrier Liaison Committee felt that they should help us rewrite them. Apparently a few had seen John Blombach’s “Study Guide” and were unhappy with some of the questions and answers...so they thought the AFA should give them the tests to look over and improve. I don’t suppose there is any chance they’d give us a copy of veterinary state board exams for us to look over and improve? Likewise, when the topic of licensing farriers was brought up by Walt Taylor, there was general veterinary support for licensing farriers. The impression I got was that if licensing came about, then the veterinarians would only be too happy to control how it would be administered.

How arrogant. How ignorant. How sad.

The attitude of the group reminded me of the Veterinary Practice Laws recently passed and introduced in many states. The new laws typically are written so that the veterinarian has control over every therapy applied to animals (chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathy, massage, saddle fitting, etc.). Despite the fact that these alternative professionals may have eight years of schooling and dozens of years of experience, the veterinary profession wants to put these alternative professionals under the direction and control of veterinarians who may have had little or no experience and not even one minute’s training in that field. How arrogant. How ignorant. How sad.

Don’t get me wrong; there were three or four veterinarians who spoke to the topic of liaison, and got it just right — these few said that the veterinarian, when working on foot-related problems in the horse, cannot just write prescriptions, but must be required to work with and communicate directly with the attending farrier — these guys had it right on the money! However, the group as a whole dismissed that idea. The reaction from the committee was: “We’ve already done that.”

Yeah, that’s right. The weakly worded “Guidelines for Veterinarian/Farrier Professional Conduct,” which the veterinarians wrote and the AFA approved (printed on page 100 of the July/August 1998 American Farriers Journal), is apparently more than they want to do. It says: “Ideally, involved parties should communicate as directly as possible...such communication should be augmented by a written communication.” “Ideally,” “should,” and “as possible” — three weasel-word modifiers in just one sentence!

I was allowed to speak from the audience as a representative of the Guild of Professional Farriers, even though I had not been invited, and was there as a reporter. I said that if requiring veterinarians to speak directly to farriers “has already been done,” then it’s not working. In my practice, I rarely get a written prescription, let alone direct discussion. Again, the committee’s response set me back: “What do you want us to do about it — pull their licenses? We can’t make them adhere to these guidelines if they don’t want to.”

Clearly they can make such direct communication the standard practice if they choose to. And just as clearly, they choose not to stand behind the idea, but rather to write it in weak language and then not follow through in any meaningful way.

What does this mean? Walt Taylor has been dealing with the AAEP for 25 years. The AAEP has had a farrier liaison committee for six years. However, there has been little, if any, progress. Will farriers and veterinarians ever form a liaison and communicate directly with each other for the good of their customers? I am convinced it certainly will never happen if we just wait for it to happen by official veterinary decree. However, veterinary-farrier liaison already happens every day. Direct dialogue happens between individual veterinarians and individual farriers — and the horse and customer benefit because of it. Some veterinarians are already enlightened, and easy to work with. Others need a little help.

We, as individual farriers, can easily fix this problem, to the benefit of all. All you have to do is say to the customer, “I’ll be happy to shoe your horse as I believe she should be shod”, or “I’ll be happy to shoe her as your veterinarian requests, but before I shoe your horse according to your veterinarian’s suggestions, I will have to discuss this directly with him or her.” Sure, this may inconvenience your customer the first time it happens, and it may mess up your schedule a bit, but it’s not likely to happen more than a few times before both customers and veterinarians get the message. Rather quickly, both the owner and veterinarian will be anxious to get direct communication going between the vet and farrier, and the care the horse gets will be far better. The Guild of Professional Farriers has adopted this position as part of its bylaws. You can read the Guild’s code of ethics for dealing with veterinarians here in the February, 1999 issue of ANVIL Magazine, and I invite you to adopt them as your own, whether or not you are a member of the Guild.

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