‘Forward, March’ For Horse Welfare

Credit: Courtesy Equitarian Initiative Dr. Julia Wilson (at the horse’s head) is the president of the Equitarian Initiative, one of the beneficiaries of

To improve the welfare of horses is a broad mission statement, but the AAEP Foundation is working to fulfill it. As the charitable arm of the AAEP, the AAEP Foundation isn’t in the field, working hands-on with horse welfare issues; rather, it supports those who are, through funding for education and research.

Since its founding in 1994 with a bequest from Halina Leonard, a late client of Wes Williams, DVM, the Foundation has provided more than $3 million to fund horse welfare-related initiatives. In 2015 alone, $295,000 was allocated to 26 grantees. (You can read about them at foundation.aaep.org.)

As a nonprofit, the AAEP Foundation relies on donations to allow the organization to do its work. Every dollar donated to the Foundation goes toward either the Foundation’s corpus (30% of donations go there) or to the next year’s funding recipients (70% percent of donations go there). The AAEP covers administrative costs for the Foundation, meaning the printing, fundraising, administrative, salary, rent and electricity costs are taken care of, freeing up the Foundation to concentrate on funding programs that advance horse welfare.

The Future of Horse Welfare

From speakers to scholarships, “a good bit of our funding goes toward student education,” said Keith Kleine, AAEP Foundation director of industry relations. There are 38 AAEP student chapters in North America and the West Indies, and the Foundation supports them with funds to bring in speakers, host short courses and offer other events.

Additionally, in partnership with the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, the AAEP Foundation funds AAEP-member veterinarians to visit and talk with FFA groups—particularly rural groups—about their careers.

Scholarships for students currently in vet school and for recent graduates who are pursuing additional degrees are a cornerstone of the AAEP Foundation. Industry partners for various scholarship programs include Platinum Performance, the Race for Education, Markel, Zoetis and the EQUUS Foundation.

Students interested in horse health research are a focus of several scholarships. “That’s one area that we think is lacking; we need more researchers going into the field for equine research,” Kleine said.

The AAEP Foundation also supports the American Youth Horse Council’s annual symposium.

‘The Fat Pony Study’

Until 2005, the AAEP Foundation funded individual research grants, but then its members realized that the $10,000 or $20,000 in annual contributions the Foundation was making to various endeavors could only take a research project so far. Research is an important aspect of the veterinary field to AAEP members, however, so the Foundation now focuses on one area of research: laminitis.

In partnership with Boehringer-Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., Texas A&M University researchers Noah Cohen, VMD, MPH, PhD, DACVIM, and Michelle Coleman, DVM, have been collecting stories and statistics of horses affected by pasture-induced laminitis from equine vets for the Laminitis Research Project (aka “The Fat Pony Study”) and will start examining the data this year.

Other laminitis research initiatives, such as those through the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation and the Morris Animal Foundation, have received AAEP Foundation money.

The AAEP Foundation also brings together researchers for collaboration and coordination of research in the form of symposia. In 2017, for example, it will support the 12th International Equine Colic Research Symposium. The World Equine Veterinary Association is a regular recipient of AAEP Foundation grants.

Welfare Around the World

Horse welfare is not a strictly a veterinary issue; it involves owners, breeders and policy makers. There are horses in every country that can benefit from welfare initiatives. Some that have benefited from the AAEP Foundation’s support at home and abroad include:

• the Equine Land Conservation Resource’s “Planning and Zoning Guide for Horse Friendly Communities,” a free publication promoting the preservation of land for horses and horserelated activities (you can download this publication at www.elcr.org.);

• the AVMA Congressional Science Fellowship Program, which keeps a veterinarian working in Washington, D.C., to advise the government on veterinary issues;

• AAEP Foundation Disaster Relief Funds;

• Equitarian Initiative workshops and youth leadership programs in developing countries (Kleine emphasized that the program funds visiting veterinarians and veterinary students to provide education, not welfare);

• the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium.

More Work To Do

The work listed here is by no means exhaustive, and the funding selection process is competitive, with many more funding requests than can currently be filled. The AAEP Foundation Advisory Council and Board—which is also the AAEP Board—has the difficult task of allotting available funds each year.

The AAEP Foundation and the AAEP support the American Horse Council’s Unwanted Horse Veterinary Relief Campaign in partnership with Merck & Co. This campaign provides vaccines to rescue and retirement facilities. They also are involved in the Unwanted Horse Coalition’s Operation Gelding program, for which the AAEP Foundation has been the majority funder. In addition, the AAEP developed the “Care Guidelines for Equine Rescue and Retirement Facilities” publication, which is available at www.aaep.org.

Where You Come In

If you are an AAEP member, you’re already supporting the AAEP Foundation by helping to foot its operating costs. The AAEP Foundation relies on community support to fund its ability to further the welfare of horses in other, creative ways:

Ambassadors for the horse

The Ambassador Program encourages veterinarians to educate horse owners about the Foundation’s support of horse welfare work. “Many within the AAEP membership have been very supportive of the AAEP Foundation over the years, realizing the value of the AAEP’s commitment to research, benevolence and student education. With these worthy goals in mind, the Foundation is excited to be in the early stages of expanding the Ambassador Program beyond individual members to reach out to stakeholders in the equine industry and interested individuals as advisors and/ or potential donors,” said AAEP Foundation chair Jeffrey Berk, VMD, MRCVS. Anyone—not just veterinarians—can become part of the Ambassador Program by filling out a form at www.foundation. aaep.org.

In memoriam

One of the longest-running and most successful AAEP Foundation programs is the Equine Memorial Giving Program. When a client’s horse passes away, the veterinarian can make a donation to the Foundation in the name of the horse, and the Foundation sends a sympathy card to the client. Zoetis offers up to $25,000 in matching funds each year.

Convention fun

The Foundation Celebration, an annual event at the AAEP Convention, is a party that includes live music, food, silent and live auctions, and a text-to pledge drive.

Simple financial support

The AAEP Foundation can receive bequests, stocks, bonds and mutual funds and be a beneficiary in wills or revocable trusts, allowing an estate to serve in furthering the organization’s mission. There are horse welfare organizations with more well-known names and bigger projects, but the AAEP Foundation has been working quietly for more than 20 years toward one simple, yet gigantic, goal: working within the veterinary community to support those improving the welfare of the horse.

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