AAEP Governance 101

The following is intended to explain the AAEP governance process, including the role of the board of directors, selection of volunteers, purpose of strategic planning, etc., to provide clarity around these issues and ensure members understand how the association operates.

Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws

The AAEP was incorporated in the State of Illinois in 1955, primarily because one of the founding members, Dr. Tom Dunkin, was the initial Secretary-Treasurer and resided in Illinois. The Articles of Incorporation constitute the agreement between the association and the state of Illinois on how the AAEP will conduct business.

The AAEP bylaws constitute an agreement between the association and its members on how the AAEP will operate. Historically, the board has periodically appointed a task force to review and amend the bylaws, as needed, to ensure the best governance practices are being employed.  Provisions for changing the bylaws are contained within.

The Finance & Audit, Nominating, and President’s Advisory committees are the only committees specified within the bylaws. All other committees and task forces can be established or sunset by the AAEP board of directors.

While the bylaws generally cover how board and officer selections occur, the following provides a little more detail.

Board of Directors

The AAEP board consists of seven at-large positions and the five officers. In the early days of the association, board members were selected by the sitting president. In later years, board members were elected from districts within the US, Canada, and international regions. Amendments to the bylaws were made in 2012 to remove districts and to elect directors based on attributes instead of particular regions or practice types, though those factors remain considerations.

Each year, two at-large board positions become open, with three openings every third year. The Nominating Committee reviews the list of members who have indicated interest in board service on their volunteer interest forms and then selects potential board candidates based on what particular skill set or perspective might be needed on the board in a given year. Currently, the only eligibility requirement for at-large board service is active membership for a period of at least 10 years, though a record of service to the association is also a consideration.

Candidates are listed on an electronic ballot and voted on by the entire membership within a 30-day election cycle. Paper ballots are sent to members who do not have an email address on file. Once elected, at-large board members serve for a period of three years.


The AAEP officers are also considered members of the board. The officers consist of the immediate past president, president, president-elect, vice president, and treasurer. The AAEP executive director is also considered an officer, albeit non-voting.

Each officer position is for a period of one year, with the exception of treasurer, which is three years. Once selected for vice president, members then ascend each year to president-elect, president, and immediate past president. The treasurer position does not ascend into the other officer positions; however, the treasurer is eligible for vice presidential consideration after their term ends.

Eligibility for officer selection is previous board service. The Nominating Committee begins the discussion of vice president candidates (and treasurer candidates every third year) early in the year. Like with at-large board candidates, selection is based on what particular skill set or attribute may be needed in a given year. The Nominating Committee currently presents their top candidate to the board at the summer board meeting. Once ratified, that individual begins service at the conclusion of that year’s annual convention.

Transitions in officer and board positions officially occur at the President’s Luncheon at the annual convention. Additionally, all of these positions are voluntary so neither officers nor board members receive any compensation for serving, other than expense reimbursement for conducting association business.

AAEP Mission & the Role of Strategic Planning

The mission statement of the AAEP was established many years ago; however, it is reviewed periodically when the association’s leadership performs strategic planning. The current mission is:

To improve the health and welfare of the horse; to further the professional development of its members; and to provide resources and leadership to the industry. 

Mission statements are intentionally broad and it is the strategic planning process that creates focus for the association’s key work. The AAEP conducts a strategic planning session every three to four years, and the process is preceded by a general membership survey. The survey results are factored into the planning session to ensure the association is focused on issues that matter most to the membership. The strategic plan serves to guide the board, committees, and staff in the current environment. Major initiatives emanating from the most recent strategic planning session include the Commission on Equine Veterinary Sustainability, an increased virtual continuing education (CE) presence, and a wet-lab series (set to debut in 2024).

CE has always been the cornerstone of what the AAEP provides for its members; therefore, it has perpetually been the priority. In the early days, this was in the form of scientific information presented at the annual convention. More recently, this has evolved to include relevant non-scientific topics such as wellness, business, DEI, and leadership; ancillary CE meetings that occur at various points during the year; and virtual CE opportunities.

The association also takes positions affecting the welfare of the horse to provide guidance to members, the veterinary profession, and the horse industry. These documents usually emerge from AAEP’s robust committee system.

The AAEP is often a source of information for advocacy efforts—primarily federal—on those issues impacting the horse or the equine veterinarian. The AAEP works closely with the AVMA, the American Horse Council, as well as governmental agencies such as the FDA, USDA, and Congress. While we can provide some assistance on a state level for local issues (e.g., lay dentistry), our impact is a little more limited to providing resources and expertise and not necessarily direct lobbying on a state level.

It is important to note that the AAEP is not a regulatory body; therefore, we can only provide guidance on many issues affecting the veterinarian and the horse, both with governmental agencies and the many equine breed and discipline groups, in an effort to positively impact policies and procedures. Additionally, while the association has a Professional Conduct & Ethics Committee, disciplinary action is limited to membership suspension, not licensure.

The AAEP also oversees The Foundation for the Horse, which serves as the association’s charitable arm. The Foundation provides funding for several different areas, primarily scholarships and student education, natural disasters impacting the welfare of horses, working equid efforts in underserved areas, and equine research.

Volunteering for the Association

Much of the work of the association is accomplished by its very active network of committees and task forces. Committees are established, as needed, when an annual, ongoing program of work is anticipated in a given area. Task forces are created for a singular purpose or project, then sunset when the project is completed. Committee membership has a term of three years, but members can be reappointed to an additional term. Task force members do not have terms based on the nature of the task. Again, these positions are all volunteer-based; however, expenses are reimbursed if the group meets during the year, outside of the annual convention.

Members interested in volunteer service for the association are encouraged to complete the volunteer interest form on the AAEP website [web link]. ALL selections for positions occur from this database. The primary function of AAEP’s Member Engagement Committee is to search this database and recommend names for the volunteer vacancies that become available each year. The task is challenging because the volunteer database currently contains the names of more than 750 members who wish to serve, but only approximately 50 new committee vacancies occur each year. However, there are other non-traditional volunteer opportunities to serve the association such as AAEP representation with other organizations (e.g., AVMA), task forces, scholarship reviewers, etc. More volunteer opportunities are being developed to increase member engagement.