A HISTORY OF THE HISTORY OF AFA CONVENTIONS
by Walt Taylor
Founder, American Farrier’s Association
Few things are as simple or straightforward as they seem to be when viewed in the single dimension of “Today”. Nor can anyone appreciate what has gone before “Today” if they have never been told about what went on before “Today”. Compounding this cognitive gap is the wisdom in the truisms that “There is none so blind as he who will not see” and “A nation with no sense of its past has no future”. Our convention history should be entertaining and interesting if you have ever wondered why we are where we are now. Let’s take a look back to about 40 years ago when the AFA had its first real convention. But, first, we have to look at the prehistory of that history.
During the tentative and formative early years of the AFA (1969 – 1974) I made the acquaintance of Dr. Steve Derwelis, DVM, a young equine veterinarian in Albuquerque, New Mexico where I had just moved. I needed client referrals as well as the confidence of a respected DVM in the new area. Dr. Derwelis told me that he was a member of an organization called the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), comprised of veterinarians that specialized in work with equines. (There’s a surprise for you!) He suggested that the AFA might benefit from liaison with the AAEP. The AAEP was started in 1954 by 11 charter members who dedicated themselves to specialized equine care. Some of those Charter members and the administrative headquarters of the AAEP were in or near Denver, Colorado. The group and its dedication to specialized care appealed to me and my vision of what the AFA could be as well as how the AFA could contribute to the well-being of all equidae. Since Denver is only about 450 miles from Albuquerque, I decided to go visit them, introduce myself and the AFA to them, and begin a liaison for the benefit of both groups, for horses, and for owners and users of horses.
The late Dr. Wayne O. (Sage) Kester, DVM, was the Executive Director at the time. His wife, Lucy, was the Secretary. The AAEP office was in their home on Lookout Mountain, about 30 miles west of Denver. General Kester had been Commander of the Air Force Veterinary Service (he helped to establish that organization), a past President of the American Veterinary Medical Association, and President of the AAEP before becoming its Executive Director. The first meeting was cordial, the hospitality warm. Our discussion revealed a lot of mutual concerns, opportunities, and joint responsibilities of farriers and veterinarians working together. Dr. Kester suggested that we arrange another meeting with some of the other Charter and current members who lived in the general area. Later meetings were with then-current AAEP President Dr. G. Marvin Beeman of the Littleton Animal Clinic, Drs. O. R. Adams (Adams’ Lameness in Horses) and Dr. Bob Shideler, both on the staff of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, CO; Dr. Tom Vaughn, Dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine at Auburn University; Dr. Bob Boss at Oklahoma State University, and other worthies whose names are not recalled.
The immediate result of these meetings was an invitation for me to speak at the upcoming AAEP Convention to be held at the Hotel Fountainebleau in Miami Beach, FL. My opportunity was to discuss the AFA, its mission, its promise, and how important it was (in many considered opinions) that farriers and veterinarians develop a close, formal working relationship. I did not speak to an empty room or to disinterested attendees. That was my introduction to a “convention” that served a profession and a professional association. While I was in Miami, Dr. Beeman extended an invitation to me to attend their next year’s convention which was to be held in San Diego, CA. At the San Diego meeting, the AAEP-AFA Veterinary Liaison Committee was created.
My experience at Miami Beach was overwhelming. Several days were chock full of activities and learning opportunities for everyone. A professionally produced series of juried lectures, films, slide shows, live demonstrations, hands-on learning, social and personal interaction, and a trade show filled the days and some of the nights. Talk about a country boy’s first visit to a toy and candy store! One had to choose from a menu of overlapping activities and interests, participating in those programs that were most pertinent to specialized interests of equine medicine. I was like a hog dying in the slop bucket – and this wasn’t even my profession! The experience convinced me that this is what should be done for farriers by the AFA. From 1972 to 1975, our AFA “conventions” had been largely business meetings with little else offered to attendees. How sharp was the contrast between what we had been doing and what could or should be done to fulfill the AFA’s promise of education and camaraderie to its members! I vowed (to myself) that the future would be different…..
Beginning in 1976, at Apex, North Carolina, things were different. Along the way, I had met Dr. Ben Harrington, DVM, owner of the Apex Veterinary Hospital. Dr. Harrington invited the AFA to have a meeting/convention in his area in conjunction with local farriers. I had already established relationships with several farriers in the southeastern United States, and proposed to them that we “give it a go”. Dr. Harrington made arrangements for meeting and lodging at a local motel and for a tour of his equine hospital. Palmer Wilson of Georgia, Gary Reid of North Carolina, and Doug Butler of Texas agreed to give a “talk” or do a demonstration of some aspect of their work. Roger Hawkins was there, and has been “there” ever since. It wasn’t much, but it was great! The event showed that it could be done – not quite to the scale of the AAEP – but at a level to meet the need of members (and prospective) AFA members. Dr. Harrington was granted an AFA Honorary Membership for his contributions to the AFA, then and over the years.
The following year, at Lakewood, CO, we pulled out all the stops. A two-day meeting was planned: Lectures, demonstrations, sales and displays by suppliers, and contests were planned and provided. Bill Pieh of Centaur Forge covered two tables with tools and books. (His thanks for the effort was for someone to steal a new GE hoof nipper he had on display.) Shoeing and horseshoe making contests were at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds – all on the same day. This was the day that an April blizzard arrived and covered the entire Front Range with a foot of heavy, wet snow. About a hundred people paid a $2.00 (!!!) registration fee to enjoy the first, stand-alone, complete AFA Convention. A sister-in-law who lived in the general area helped me with all the arrangements and logistics needed to complete the effort. From Canada, Kentucky, California, and everywhere in between, people made the trip to Colorado by bus, train, pick-up truck, and Cadillac automobile to be part of the memorable event. It was a smashing success.
The next year, in 1978, we shared an intervening program with the Michigan Horseshoers Association (MHA) and Illinois Licensed Horseshoers Association (ILHA) with the AFA furnishing most of the lecture program, while the MHA and ILHA put on the demonstrations and hands-on program. One of the demonstrations featured the Nature Plate, reincarnated by a politician from Washington, DC. He brought a young, still wet-behind-the-ears farrier to demonstrate the impossibility of the item as a practical and useful horseshoe. Dr. Jim Rooney, DVM, gave the keynote lecture.
In 1979 at Fresno, California, almost everything came together in a Convention that the AFA could be truly proud of, for that time and for the future. Reuel Darling was the local Coordinator, and he brought together lectures and lecturers of renown – including Dr. Marv Beeman, DVM, round-table discussions by trainers and farriers, and the first public discussion of licensing versus certification of farriers. The Convention was rounded out by a trade show worthy of the name; contests that included the first North American Challenge Cup Futurity; formation of the first North American Horseshoeing Team led by Bob Marshall of Canada to compete at the Irish Horse Board contests in Dublin, Ireland; and a banquet to provide a social get-together and a time for prize giving and recognition of people that had made significant contributions to the AFA during the year. This was a launching pad into the future.
As is often said, “The rest is history.” Our history is rich with innovations and failed initiatives that have – over the years – evolved into the Conventions we enjoy today. Doug Butler and Scott Colson called the first auction in Jackson, MS in 1980. Everything that was loose was sold. Scott was the local Coordinator, assisted by all the Southern Farriers Association. Foreign dignitaries and competitors began to participate in conventions in 1981 and have been part of the AFA since that time. Since then, conventions have featured formal and informal dances, banquets, guided tours to local attractions, a media learning center, ladies and guests special programs, talent shows, banquet buffets (that ran out of food half way through the line because the hotel wouldn’t believe how much food is consumed by horseshoers), comedians, magicians, concerts, belly dancers, after-dinner speakers, musical ‘jams’ by members, barbecue sauce-making contests, drugged horses in hotel ballrooms, and bars drunk dry by people happy to be part of such a great organization. Lots of sick, hang-over headaches, a few fist-fights, and lots of loud argument and heated, friendly discussion have had their places, as well. The number of registrants ranged from a hundred to about a thousand in robust years. The AFA Convention became the centerpiece of farrier education and camaraderie around the world. It still is.
We created an Educator’s Division under the guidance of Beth Garner in 1979. That failed, and was followed by the Register of Professional Farrier Educators. That group was unable to work together, and failed. A commercial division was created to encourage support from, and participation by, tool and equipment suppliers and manufacturers. Scott Colson headed that group, and eventually created the Farrier Industry Association (FIA). The AFA contracted later with the FIA to “run” the Marketplace.
In the beginning, I did most of the planning and administration of the meetings. As we grew into more of a convention, a local Coordinator was added. When we outgrew that capacity, an in-charge Convention Coordinator was designated no matter where the event was to be held. Scott Colson filled that slot for several years. He was followed by Dee Brown, then Greg Johnson, then Greg and Eric Nygaard.
What you enjoy now is the fruit of seeds planted nearly 50 years ago. The seed germinated and the plant grew. Over the years, this plant – the AFA – has suffered from a drought of numbers, lack of influence, and diminished interest. It has suffered and survived several leadership crises, from its near-demise in 1988 to the splintering of the core group into rival and competing organizations. But farriers are hardworking and tenacious people, as a rule. We don’t give up or quit. We work hard to make things better, to leave them better than we found them. This is true of the AFA Convention, as well. The truth is, the best is yet to come.