Interview with Scott Davidson

© Rob Edwards
published in ANVIL MAGAZINE November, 1997

Scott is currently the Vice President of the American Farriers Association. This interview was updated by telephone after the AFA mid-year Board of Directors meeting in September. Scott and his family put on the Montana Professional Horseshoers Contest every year.

Missoula, Montana, Fall, 1997

ANVIL: Scott, you were born here in Missoula, weren't you?

SCOTT: Yes, I was. But now I live in Spokane, Washington. I live two states away, and yet I'm 150 miles closer to the Montana Professional Horseshoers Contest than when I lived in the state of Montana.

ANVIL: So you lived way over in eastern Montana, then.

SCOTT: Yes, southeastern Montana, real close to where Custer was killed, near the Little Wolf Mountains.

ANVIL: You were saying Spokane has a real tight-knit group of farriers.

SCOTT: Spokane is incredible; we've got 10 certified journeymen in an area composed of a population of about 300,000. The AFA works and it works very well; we communicate with each other, we ski together, we compete together, we hold clinics, and we have a community gathering place at Keith Fremlin's blacksmith shop. We all get together on a weekly basis at the very least. If someone gets hurt or needs some help shoeing, we have people available who jump in to help out. The respectability that we are earning with the veterinarians and the horse owners is incredible; it is an excellent place to shoe horses.

ANVIL: And the common bond is the American Farriers Association?

SCOTT: The common bond is, first, camaraderie, second is the American Farriers Association, and third is the Farriers Association of Washington State (FAWS). We found out that people want to learn and instead of its going out and saying, 'Come here, we want to teach you this,' we get everybody together and say, 'Hey, would you teach us this?' So we bring in all levels, we set up certifications and we set up the educational process to attain that. We have no prima donnas; instead, we have a good group of people who are very solid and very dedicated to being professional horseshoers.

ANVIL: You have quite a history with the American Farriers Association. As a matter of fact, you were a member of the American Farriers Team at one point and traveled to Stoneleigh, England, to compete. What was that like?

SCOTT: From a ranch in the middle of Montana to Stoneleigh, England, is probably the most intimidating thing that has ever happened to me in my entire life. But it was also the most fun. I qualified four times for the team, but I was actually on the team twice - in 1986 and again in 1989. They were the greatest experiences I've ever had. I've met people now from around the world because of those two trips. By being fortunate enough to be on the team, it opened up my eyes and I learned so much more about horseshoeing. And I also discovered that the sky is the limit. I've now been to many countries, because people have asked me to do clinics there. I was raised on a large cattle ranch and I always thought the neatest gimmick in the world was that people would pay for horseshoeing! It's been fun, and it's been quite a ride. The AFA has done more for me personally than perhaps for any other member in its history. And I think I need to pay it back. I ran for the office of vice president because it was my opportunity to try and give something back. And I'm going to try my best to do something for the members of AFA.

ANVIL: Will you be the next to inherit the presidency of the AFA?

SCOTT: No. The only way I would assume the president's duties is if something happened to the president and he could not perform his duties. Then it would be my obligation to assume his responsibilities.

ANVIL: So you would have to get elected in order to hold the office of president, then.

SCOTT: That's correct. Now there is no interim president or president-elect.

ANVIL: The reason that the AFA discontinued the interim president position is that they found out it was contrary to its constitution, isn't it?

SCOTT: I believe that was the reason.

ANVIL: Do you think they should alter their constitution to allow for an interim president?

SCOTT: I'm more inclined to feel that, instead, we need more definitions for the job descriptions that are already in place. It is imperative, because this is a very large business enterprise, and we need to progress and grow from the 2500-member plateau we seem to be stuck on. The way to do that is through professionalism and by having an executive director who is a non-horseshoer trained in nonprofit organization directorships. We also need an executive committee of the elected officials to bring in the people who are going to take the next presidency - in other words, the people who will be nominated at a convention should be kept informed and know what the executive committee is doing and how things are operating. This would take the burden off one person who in the past has made all the decisions on a continual basis for years and years. It's too big; it can't be done. We need an executive director and we need an executive committee, and we also need to reorganize the board of directors so this association can grow.

ANVIL: The executive director would be a paid position. As such, would he or she be allowed to sit on the board?

SCOTT: There is nothing that stipulates that a paid individual cannot be a board member.

ANVIL: So the executive director would have to abstain on votes that would pertain to his situation, then?

SCOTT: Under the plan that AFA member, Bob Plant, sent us for an executive director, I believe there are provisions that are set up for that. Once that particular job description is accepted and set up by the board of directors, then there would be no questions about it. Because that is the way that the Association by the constitution and bylaws, as well as by the policy manual, has to run. It cannot deviate.

ANVIL: On another note, there has been a lot of talk about farrier licensing, particularly in regard to Robert Liotti, a consumer advocate who has been quite vocal recently on the subject. I understand the stance of the American Farriers Association is definitely against licensing in any form. Is that correct?

SCOTT: At this point, the elected officials are adamantly and vehemently against any form of licensing or regulation whatsoever. But because of our structure with our board of directors, the board has not voted to make that stipulation that they are against licensing. So the elected officials - part of the board of directors - are against it.

ANVIL: There seems to be this question regarding the affiliation between the American Farriers Association and the United States Drug Administration (USDA). I understand that Randy Luikart, at one point, was the liaison. However, I'm told that he has been replaced by three members; is that correct?

SCOTT: No, it isn't. What happened there was that in a conference call with the elected officials, it was decided that we would ask Danny Ward, who is an AFA member and also owner of the Eastern School of Farriery in Virginia, to chair or co-chair a committee with Randy Luikart. They would act as liaisons with the USDA. But in the process of that, the USDA representative is no longer with the USDA, but is now in private practice - putting the liaison with the USDA at a standstill. We now have no liaison with the USDA whatsoever.

ANVIL: How do you feel about that?

SCOTT: I think it's great, because I personally don't think we need it. Second, I think the control and the regulation of the AFA and of horseshoeing as a whole will not come from an equine advocate group, nor will it come from the USDA. It will come from the veterinarians. That's why the validity to our certification is of utmost importance and is one of the main reasons I believe that horseshoers and even horse owners should be involved with the American Farriers Association.

ANVIL: I noticed in a document authored by Dr. Tracy Turner that there was a statement by the American Association of Equine Practitioners that they recognize the American Farriers Association as a farrier organization. But they also mention licensing as an option, as far as farriers go. And I would hate to see farriers regulated by veterinarians.

SCOTT: I feel what we have to do, as professional farriers, is to lobby with other groups right now: the equine dental, the equine chiropractic, the equine acupuncturists and the equine massage therapists. All of us must lobby together to bring some validity, consistency and respect to our trades. Now is the time to assert ourselves vigorously towards that goal.

ANVIL: What you're saving is that equine alternative medical practitioners should join forces with farriers to insure that we maintain our autonomy as professionals.

SCOTT: Yes; through communication and education.

ANVIL: There seems to be a few veterinarians who have made the transition to acupuncture, homeopathy and massage therapy, but by and large they are looked at askance by Western equine practitioners; however, the popularity of alternative medicine is increasing at quite a rapid rate. So the horse owners are demanding that type of service and care.

SCOTT: Why has the American Farriers Association not involved the horse owners? Most of us get paid from horse owners, not from other horseshoers or veterinarians or anybody else. I think we need to involve them. The lobbying and that kind of activity needs to conic from the equine people. And it needs to come from the horse owners because they are the strongest and largest group there is. The more education they gain, the more they discover the validity of these therapies. The acupuncture, the chiropractic care and the farrier -work everything pulls together to make this animal move. We all need to pull together as well, so that the horse can go on and compete successfully.

This association was supposed to be dedicated to the betterment of horses, owners and horseshoers. Why are we spending 99% of our time on less than 10% of the horses that are in the United States - on the lame horses? Why are we not spending more time teaching people the basic consistencies of physiology, anatomy, form, function and structure, as well as the biomechanics of this animal as it relates to our job? Let's spend more time on the horses that are good, to make them better so that they don't run into that 10%; let's get back to the basic brass tacks of where this association first began.

ANVIL: So you think there needs to be a lot more emphasis placed on horse owner education, then, by the American Farriers Association?

SCOTT: Yes. For example, in Spokane, we have many good journeyman and good qualified people coming tip the ranks. The only reason we were able to achieve that strong bond was to get the horse owners involved. We have clinics there for horse owners. We'll bring in an equine massage therapist or a veterinarian or an equine chiropractor or acupuncturist - or, we'll bring them all in together. The hardest thing we have to do as professional farriers on a daily basis is educate the people that we're shoeing for.

ANVIL: The midyear meeting of the American Farriers Association has now taken place in Lexington, at the offices there. Scott, you were there with the Board of Directors and it appears some monumental decisions were made that many of us have been looking forward to for many years. What do you think is the most important thing that happened at that meeting?

SCOTT: The largest thing that happened there was the formation of an executive committee. In other words, no longer will one person be running the show, but an executive committee voted on by the Board of Directors. It is now a standing committee comprised of the four elected officials and the past president.

ANVIL: What is the main advantage you see as opposed to the previous setup?

SCOTT: In the past there have been a lot of problems with only one person running the show and we've been extremely stagnant and not able to move forward effectively because it's too large a job for one person to be able to do. The president, Lim Couch, has found that out. By his opening the door, he accomplished setting up an ad hoc committee as an executive committee. Then, voted on by the Board of Directors, it became a standing committee.

ANVIL: That's great. So now instead of one person having all the burden on his shoulders, the elected officials, collectively, will be making the weighty decisions along with the immediate past president. The most important thing that this has set up for us is that the Board of Directors has empowered the executive committee to interview in seareh of an executive director. This would give us professional help in running the association.

ANVIL: Many of us have been attempting to accomplish hiring an executive director since 1984 - 13 years now. We are long overdue for that. The main concern among the members, though, seemed to be coming up with the money to pay a professional full-time executive director. In fact, however, an executive director should be able to at least double his or her salary as far as revenues to the association.

SCOTT: We think the position should be an entrepreneurial one. The director's salary should be based on the amount of money that he or she can generate for the association. All decisions made now will be made totally on an economic basis, rather than out of emotion. And that's exactly what we needed to accomplish. The AFA will now be run as a business, which is long overdue. We were not offering anything to our members that would increase our membership. We only have two ways to generate money in this association: One of them is the annual convention and the other is through our membership dues. We need to increase membership. How do we do that? The answer has to come from a professional working in that position.

ANVIL: I wholeheartedly agree. When I was the secretary of the association some years ago, it didn't take me very long to realize that it was an overwhelming responsibility for someone who just took the job as a volunteer I'm talking about all the official positions, which of course are all voluntary. A full-time professional executive director is really required to get the association up to speed in business form.

SCOTT: I know all the elected officials going way back have been working for this for a very long time. All the elected officials have done a very good job for this association and I think that everyone involved with the AFA in the past as an official, kind of 'loosened the jar up a little bit,' and we were able to take the top off. I really feel strongly that this association has not only turned the page, but we've actually closed that book and we're beginning to write a new one. We are going to be a professional entity and be a very strong source in the equine world.

ANVIL: I understand that during the Board of Directors meeting, there was also talk regarding insurance policies as a possibility for members.

SCOTT: We are in the process of working on this. Steve Spencer is the head of the Insurance Committee and I am one of his committee people. We are actively working with a gentleman from Colorado, and we are trying to set up an insurance program through a co-op situation. Our goal is to be able to offer the members, at a very minimal cost, insurance benefits. Not only liability - personal, general, or professional liability - but also through this co-op, possibly the ability to obtain health insurance, auto and truck and homeowner's insurance at a discounted rate. It would be similar to the way many other groups obtain their insurance, because of their numbers. The insurance program that we are proposing and working on right now, will hopefully be set up by the time of the convention in Rochester early next year. I think that program would help increase our membership substantially.

ANVIL: One of the reasons that the Guild of Professional Farriers came into existence is because they wanted to base their program on an insurance policy for their members because they were quite frustrated with the insurance policy offered by the AFA. It's interesting that other associations - the Guild and the BWFA have been instrumental in lighting a fire in the AFA to induce them to 'get their act together,' so to speak. And it appears now they have done just that.

SCOTT: I feel the growth and strength of the other farrier associations is in direct proportion to the weakness shown in the AFA. It is about time we stand up and take this ball and run with it. We are a very strong association with a great deal of clout. We have a lot of members and we can increase our membership even more if we can offer something to these people out there shoeing horses. And that's what we need to do. One of the greatest accomplishments of this meeting was to get Emil Carre back in as Constitution and Bylaws Chairman. We will be changing our outdated constitution and bylaws. I don't know how much we need to restructure the Board, or if we instead need to rename this Board. In other words, restructure it into a regional group. It could be a board of regions. We want to have everyone represented and have everyone, no matter in what region, to vote on what's going on in their association. The minute the Board approved the Executive Committee, we are essentially the directors of the association and are responsible to this Board. Emil is working hard on how this is going to work, and he has some great people on his committee.

ANVIL: I thought Dave Hazlett was in charge of restructuring, not Emil Carre.

SCOTT: No, that is part of the Constitution and Bylaws Committee at this point. The work by Dave Hazlett's committee has been completed on the structuring of the Board. The proposals have been written up and will be proposed with the new constitution and bylaws. That's just part of it. The executive director will be responsible for the financial end of it, and the executive committee is responsible for the daily running of the association, along with the executive director. We need to do this for the members of our association - starting with strong leadership in the direction of the membership. We need to offer them an insurance program and offer conventions like Rochester, which promises to be the best convention we have ever held.

ANVIL: This is not taking into consideration the inclement weather in Rochester in February, though.

SCOTT: All you will have to do is get from the airport to this facility. You can take off your coat the minute you walk in and you can shop, go to the contests, go to all the meetings and all the workshops everything will be under cover in one place. The Western New York Farriers Association has been instrumental in putting the convention together, as well as the Chamber of Commerce. They have bent over backwards to accommodate the American Farriers Association.

ANVIL: I would imagine they are thrilled to have a convention in Rochester, New York at the end of February. I would think that is probably not prime property as far as association conventions are concerned at that time of year.

SCOTT: But the fact is, the largest percentage of our membership lives within 500 miles of that locale.

ANVIL: I would question that, but....

SCOTT: The convention is going to be big and it's going to be strong. We did a survey in Albuquerque earlier this year. From those results, we've gotten the speakers that the members want. They are doing things that are just phenomenal. I am very impressed with the way Charlie Orlando, Bob Plant, Ron Forbes and everyone else involved are running this project.

ANVIL: Charlie Orlando was also instrumental in putting on the ABANA conference in New York last year. He does know how to put on a conference, there's no doubt about it. In the past few years, there have been some people who have done a lot of work for the convention and their work has been appreciated. However, possibly it was not a very democratic way of doing it. So there were some objections in that regard. How is the convention for the AFA, which is the money-making event of the year, being handled at this point in time?

SCOTT: Like it was originally set up. The host association is in charge of running it, with Charlie Orlando as the interim convention coordinator. After this convention, that will be taken care of by the executive director; it will be one of his or her main functions.

ANVIL: What kind of committee exists in liaison with Charlie Orlando, in regard to selecting speakers?

SCOTT: The program has essentially been decided by the New York State Farriers Association, based upon their survey. We need to have the host associations get involved and do the work at their own site. There is another item I wanted to mention. AFA member, Greg Johnson, has agreed to be a write-in candidate for treasurer. The current treasurer, Mike Rufe, will not be running again. We are actively looking for more candidates to run for the position of treasurer.

ANVIL: Regarding the American Farriers Team, I understand there was some discussion about that and actually, in the first part of our interview, you thought that was the greatest thing that happened to you. What does the future look like for the relationship between the AFT and the AFA?

SCOTT: Bruce Daniels has done an excellent job as committee chairman. He has resolved, as the team has resolved, that going back to England on a continual basis is like a dog chasing its tail. We need to do other things. We need some corporate sponsorship to help out with the financial base of the team and we need to have a very strong team to compete in international competition. I'm not sure where we're at on that except we definitely need a team. I'd like to see a couple of teams or else some people who are able to remain on the team for a few years in order to get enough experience to be able to compete in international competitions. I would love the team to go to Australia or maybe New Zealand or Japan to coinPete. I love England and what they have done for us, but we need to go on ' As this association is moving ahead, so the team needs to do that, as well.

ANVIL: So you're thinking corporate sponsorship might allow the team members the time to practice so that they, too, could be competitive.

SCOTT: I was on the team twice and it cost me about $10,000 a year back in the '80s. And I know it costs these people now that much or more to be on it. Many people think it's just a free ride to England but it is extremely expensive, because of the amount of clients you lose due to the length of time you're gone for the competition. And the time and dedication it takes to be a team member is enormous.

ANVIL: You have been instrumental in organizing this contest in Missoula, Montana. It has an unusual event in which a chain is made. Can you describe that?

SCOTT: You've got to make five chain links out of 3/8" round by 7". You forge weld those together any way that you want. What we do is pick the anvil up with a forklift and put the chain between the weight and the forklift. We then drop it five feet. If your chain stays in there, you go to the next round. The world record is 650 pounds. When you first start with the chain it may only be 8" long. But after we've dropped 600 pounds on it a few times, we can stretch that chain out to 12 or 14 inches in a straight line! It's just a blast. It really does test the welds. We also have other fun contests, like the potluck forging class, where we give everybody a piece of steel. The items that are turned out are just incredible. Until they participated in this, many of the competitors didn't realize what skilled craftsmen they were. Now it's one of the most popular contests we have. The Fair Board gives us $2,000 plus all entry fees added. We have about 55 competitors here this weekend. All monies go back into the pot and are dispersed among all the shoers in prize money. The high point is decided on three shoeing contests and one forging class. Everything else is just a fun class.

ANVIL: I understand the well-known Scottish farrier and blacksmith, David Wilson, is going to be your judge next year.

SCOTT: In 1998, yes. That will be our 18th year running the contest in this same spot.

ANVIL: That's amazing! It seems like such a friendly competition, too. It doesn't appear that there is an intense, competitive attitude among the group. It's all pretty laid back. Obviously these competitors are working hard and concentrating on what they're doing, but there doesn't seem to be that intense rivalry.

SCOTT: They're intent, but everybody has a total fair share in this contest because they don't know any of the shoes until right before the class. And there are no specimen shoes. We want their interpretation. For example, yesterday, the assignment was a hind Warmblood shoe with Diamond caulks on it made out of 5/16" x 1" material - we were looking for the competitors' concept of that, And that shows the craftsmanship. We bring over 35 head of horses in over a four-day period, all shod by the time we leave. We also set it up in a way that presents the best out of each competitor. Author and farrier instructor, Scott Simpson, told me that the secret is to challenge people to challenge themselves. And that's what we try to do here.

ANVIL: You say that this is a contest for horseshoers and yet you have a lot of blacksmithing events,

SCOTT: Yes, because everybody enjoys the artistic end of it and the artistic approach. It gets away from the horseshoes and the horses a little bit. Many, of these competitors are entrants in the blacksmithing competitions around the country. Ours just evolved after 17 years. Every year after this contest is over, I ask: 'What can we do better next time? What do you want to see more of)' And so we're going with the trend that the competitors want, as well as the attendees at the fair themselves. They love to see this stuff They're all at the auction and they all have a great time. In the general scope of this, we're trying to teach and help with the horseshoeing world. Maybe we're also trying to show some camaraderie as well as professionalism - to show all the rest of the shoers that we're all going through the same things.

ANVIL: It's just a beautiful setting; Missoula is surrounded by mountains on all sides with five canyons opening out into it. It's a superb time of year, as well.

SCOTT: You can't ask for anything better! When the weather is 75' in the middle of August, it's pretty nice in Montana.

ANVIL: I understand you and your son like to ski.

SCOTT: We're pretty addicted to it, yes. There are four ski hills within an hour of home and so it makes it quite easy to get interested in the sport. The whole family has season passes. In the northwest of Montana when there are three feet of snow on the ground and not much shoeing going on, it's a great time, then, to ski. Another advantage is that all the shoers in Spokane are also skiers.

ANVIL: So you farriers not only work together but you ski together, as well?

SCOTT: You bet!

ANVIL: Scott, your insights and suggestions are most enlightening, and I enjoyed talking with you.

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