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2003/12/17

Dr. Frederick Harper: The Man In The Know For Horse Info by Nancy Brannon For expertise in horse knowledge, who you gonna call? Dr. Frederick Harper, of course, at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Dr. Harper is the most renown publisher of horse information in the state, if not the nation. Horse people have been reading the Horse Express, his publication for the University of Tennessee Extension Service, for a long time. "I've been doing this for four decades," he proudly admits. "Providing factual information to horse owners enables them to manage and enjoy their horses much better. My advice has even been used by horse owners to save their horses' lives!" Dr. Harper began his career at Rutgers University in 1963 as the first Extension Horse Specialist in the nation. "That was the draft horse era," he explains, "when we didn't have specialists; we were all in the general discipline of animal husbandry. It was only in latter years that we began to have specialized disciplines among the various animals." He is one of the true pioneers - the Dean of Extension Horse Specialists. If one examines other states' extension service programs, they are either a take off or a corollary to his programs. In fact, Dr. Harper has been the catalyst for a number of horse speciality programs in various formats all over the nation. For example, at Texas A & M University, a staple of their horse program has been his article on the importance of knowing the weight of horses in order to feed and medicate them accurately and efficiently. When he was in New Jersey, he developed the 4-H Horse Knowledge Bowl, which was expanded regionally and then nationally. United States Pony Club has adopted a similar competition of horse knowledge for its members - the "Know Down." In Lexington, Kentucky, he started the first stud managers course; now most states have similar programs. This led to the development of othercourses with particular themes. He started a program focusing strictly on broodmares and how to manage them for the best results for both mare and foal. He has learned over the years how to market his ideas. Numerous horse magazines reprint his articles and some of his programs have even received international recognition. He has had articles published in Australia, Canada, England, Switzerland, and other European countries. He has even received requests for information from a practicing veteranarian in Cuba. One of the surprising places he has been published is in Cat Fanciers magazine. "I had written a two-part series on genetics, and a lady in California wanted to publish it in the magazine because it was the best work on genetics she had seen," he explains. Dr. Harper has the largest database of horse information in the world, as well as the largest data base of any commodity group at any land grant university. Dr. Harper is such a prolific writer, that he has, literally, rooms and file cabinets filled with his publications. Dr. Harper comes by his affinity for writing honestly. "My grandmother, Isabel France, was a writer. She married a true mountain man, so she wrote a lot about nature, the flora and fauna. She wrote about mountain people in a regularly published column, The Hills of Home,' in which she included many mountain adages. She started with the Argus Press in a small county in Arkansas, then wrote for the West Arkansas Times, which was then owned by Bill Fulbright. Later she wrote for the Arkansas Gazette," he remembers. The most widely read book he has written is the Top Form book which was published in 1966. A look at the inside cover reveals the dedication to Isabel France and Owen France, his step grandfather. He wrote the book even before he got his Ph.D. while he was at Rutgers, and the last figure he heard was that there were over 450,000 copies in print. Dr. Harper tells the story of how he came to write the book. "There was a German-owned company, Merck and Company, which had a product line called Top Form.' They saw the horse market as a new enterprise and I got a call from them asking for a recommendation for someone to write a book about horses. I recommended my professor, of course. Then I was asked if I would collaborate on the book; I said yes.' Eventually I was asked if I would just write the book, and I said yes' again. Bill Lawson, the former editor of Ford Times, edited the book." The book has been not been printed for 20 years, but Dr. Harper still gets comments about it and requests for autographs. "It has been very extensively read, especially for U.S. Pony Club and 4-H programs. I came very close to being on the Today' show," he recalls, "but even though that didn't happen, I have had a lot of fun promoting the book." After the book was published, Merck became a national sponsor for 4-H. Not having animals at U.T. School of Agriculture on which to do actual research is a handicap, but not a very big obstacle for Dr. Harper. In fact, it may be more of a benefit than not in the kind of work he does. "I look in the literature for research that has practical applications, then I write up the information in a form that is usable by horse owners. Editors have told me that my material is readable, understandable, and applicable," he reports. His articles have pragmatic appeal to horse owners because they usually focus on one particular issue, rather than incorporate five or six concepts in the same article. "I focus on specific aspects of topics, then do other articles to cover the rest of the topics. For example, one of my articles on broodmares shows that the pregnant mare is much more efficient than non-pregnant mares. This was based on research done in Australia," he explains. The Horse Express is probably the most widely circulated and read quarterly newsletter in the horse world. His editors usually limit his articles to 1500 words. He can break down a large article into a series that will be continued in the next publication. In addition to the shorter, pragmatic articles for horse owners, Dr. Harper also writes larger articles with a broader spectrum for the courses on the Agriculture Campus at U.T. Dr. Harper emphasizes several key points to writing horse information articles. The Horse Information series includes short, 400-600 word concise articles. The Update is an internal publication written mainly for extension agents. The focus here is on research at other universities. He takes the research data and shows how it can be utilized in practical applications for horse management. One of his more popular innovations is the Horse Management Course. Again, Harper tells the history of this service to horse owners. "It started in Knox County in 1982, I worked with Dennis Geiser, who was in the large animal program, and we taught one night a week for six weeks. At that time, Harry Bryant was the extension leader in Knox County. I was told that I was ahead of my time by suggesting a fee for service for the program. Since then, it has become a given and an important contribution to the horse program." His horse management get some of the highest ratings among adult education programs. "Today we have over 70 contract hours in the Smoky Mountain District in adult education courses. This is two to three times what is being done in the rest of the state. On a scale of 5, our horse management courses rate a 4.5 or higher. At least 95% of those who attend one course attend others that we offer. And 98% of our attendees recommend them to others," he reports. "We also have results of pre- and post-tests that show our attendees get at least a 40% increase in knowledge. This shows the real impact that adult education program are having in the horse industry." With such a wide expanse of material, Dr. Harper says that it is easy to get speakers for their courses. "We can develop hand-outs of material for the students and the speakers don't have to go to a lot of trouble pulling together material for the courses." Dr. Harper has also started a Horse Ownership course, "which came directly out of the non-credit evening program at U.T." he explains. "Agriculture and animal agriculture are drastically changing, especially in metro/urban areas in Tennessee. We have to reach a new clientele, not people who have traditionally been involved in agriculture. In fact, horses are the most viable agriculture entity in most areas of the state." The Horse Ownership courses cover five main topics: (1) facilities - where do you keep the horse? (2) feeding; (3) stable and pasture management; (4) health care; and (5) selecting the horse. As part of the course, participants get a notebook with about 55 articles on various aspects of horse care, as well as certificates for participation. Dr. Harper proudly reports that his is the only department of animal science that has developed a West Nile Virus web site. "We track the disease and send a weekly letter to agents. We send out the information to extension agents as soon as we see a change," he says, "especially if there has been a positive horse in their county." One of the newest programs started by Dr. Harper is the Horse Round Table. This is a one-night program with four speakers, a break, then a question and answer panel. It is very similar to the Horse Management courses, but takes place in one night only. One of the highlights of this program is that "it puts extension agents in a positive teaching situation, something that is not done at other universities," Harper notes. Throughout Tennessee, horses are one of the major "industries" that bring in a lot of money to the state. "Not everyone realizes the value and impact of the horse industry," Dr. Harper says. "Over $110 million is spent annually in the 9 county area around Knox county; no other enterprise has that kind of economic impact," Harper notes. "There are 7300-8100 families in the horse industry. There are about 25,000 horses with the average family having 3 horses. Metropolitan areas have the highest horse ownership rates and there are fewer horses in rural counties." "This is also a clean environmental industry," Harper adds. "Horses enhance the environment as well as the quality of life for people. The four main reasons people give for owning horses are related to good health and quality of life issues." In summarizing his greatest contributions, Dr. Harper notes these achievements: -for over four decades, providing the horse industry, over 100 million people, with factual unbiased information that is useful; -having a positive impact on individuals' lives, through 4-H, horse specialists, and others; as well as having a positive impact on folks' careers; -clarifying misinformation and speaking on controversial issues, like the fescue toxicity issue.; -providing accurate, helpful information on boodmares and foals. So when it comes to providing reliable, consistent, factual horse information, the University of Tennessee's Dr. Frederick Harper is the man in the know. Would you like your Top Form book autographed? For more information on horse programs at the University of Tennessee please visit this web site: Then click "extention," then "horse extension."

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