Dave Freeman wore a lot of hats as the Oklahoma State Extension Horse Specialist over a span of 30 plus years. Some were used to seeing him as a professor at Oklahoma State University, some as a source of answers for their ‘feed’n, lead’n or breed’n’ questions as horse owners, and others as a source of information on the Oklahoma horse industry. All that aside, many saw him only as the leader of the State 4-H Horse program, directing and assisting the efforts of the many volunteers to offer 4-H horse shows, 4-H, FFA and breed association judging contests, youth communication contests and other youth development activities.
“I came to Oklahoma in the mid-1980’s fresh from completing a PhD at Texas A&M in Equine Nutrition and Exercise Physiology. Oklahoma wasn’t foreign to me. Growing up involved with showing and racing horses in Texas, we found ourselves frequent visitors to the state. I was also heavily involved with outreach and teaching in as a student in college. When I was presented with the opportunity to become the first full-time Extension Specialist in Oklahoma, it didn’t take me long to accept. Oklahoma was, is and hopefully always will be horse country with the reputation of being the home of many people and horses who make a major impact on the nation’s horse industry”.
Dave is quick to point out that while it is an honor to be inducted to the ‘OQHA Hall of Fame’, any accomplishments he is recognized for was largely due to working with some great students, great leaders in the industry, and great horse owners.
“There were two of us at OSU that were considered the ‘horse guys’: I was to work mainly in outreach and Dr. Don Topliff and later Dr. Steve Cooper, to cover the on-campus teaching and research needs. We figured out pretty quickly that if we were to cover our duties with any level of success, that we had to work together, and we did so without worrying about who got the credit. The same went for the Vet School. A lot of universities don’t have a vet school, and those that do tend to not work together with the ‘non-vets’ like us in the ag school. I don’t know if was just because we had a special group of people or maybe we felt understaffed and needed each other’s help, but I always worked closely with the all the faculty in the college of Ag and the OSU vet school. And they were by and large willing to help out.”
The many hats that Dave wore shows up when reading his professional resume. In the arena of being an Animal Scientist in academia he was the leading or contributing author on 98 peer reviewed research journal articles and research proceedings. He served on 25 graduate student committees, was on the review board of several Animal Science and Veterinary Journals, and served on the board of directors and as chairperson for numerous committees for the Equine Science Society, American Society of Animal Science, and American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists.
“I never had a formal research appointment, but always felt I had a professional obligation to be heavily involved with research. Like I said before, it was great working at OSU where we were allowed to work together. That freedom allowed me to work with some talented people, and even opened up the ability to get grants on my own to conduct applied research. We did a little of everything, mostly trials in nutrition and exercise physiology.”
Dave’s work as a professional Animal Scientist has been recognized by several awards. The list includes the Distinguished Service Award for Equine Science Society, Outstanding Educator Award for the Equine Nutrition and Physiology Society, and Outstanding Extension Specialist of American Society of Animal Science.
“Staying involved in professional organizations and presenting research results to horse owners, was always enjoyable, and I’d add challenging to stay on top of. If asked to pick out examples of projects that I felt were especially helpful to the horse industry, I’d say two come to mind. One was work with research for the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission and the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Racing Association that was needed to determine the economic impact of the Oklahoma horse racing industry. That information didn’t exist until we were able to help out. It gave the industry and the state government some real numbers. And those numbers were a lot bigger than a lot of the policy makers expected.
The other was being appointed to the National Academies of Science National Research Council’s project to revise the report that published the guidelines for equine nutrition. That publication is still used as a nonbiased source of nutrient guidelines for horse feeds prepared in the U.S. It was hard work that no one got paid for; but the 11 people on the committee did a great job in producing an up to date, detailed publication that was direly needed.“
Switching hats to his more direct involvement with the horse industry, Dave worked with many different organizations on a state and national level. His support of AQHA included several years of co-coordinating the AQHA Judge’s Certification School and directing the AQHA Intercollegiate Horse Judging Contests. His membership with OQHA included assisting with various shows throughout the years and organizing several of the OQHA hosted International Farm tours held in conjunction with past AQHA World Shows. Adding to his support of horse industry organizations, he helped develop and coordinated the NRHA Intercollegiate Horse Judging Contest and several years of educational seminars held in conjunction with the NRHA futurity. Dave also served the Color Breed Council’s International Equine Judge’s Seminar by coordinating and developing the annual testing materials used for judge’s certification.
His efforts with the horse industry have been recognized by a variety of organizations. He’s received an American Quarter Horse Association Recognition of Service Award, Outstanding Service Award for the Color Horse Breed Council, Professional Service Award for National Judging Team Coaches Association, Service Award for Special Olympics Oklahoma, and an Honorary State Farmer Degree from Oklahoma FFA.
“Oklahoma hosted and continues to be the site of many national and world level horse events. I also had many friends and some past students that worked for the associations that made it easy to get involved with a lot of different programs with the breed and sport associations. One example that comes to mind was working to develop the AQHA International Horsemanship Schools. Trigg Rentfro, the first full-time International Director for AQHA, was a past grad student of ours at OSU. At the time, a need for educational programs overseas was just beginning to emerge. The western discipline and showing was something new to most of the attendees. A team of faculty, coaches and students at OSU conducted the first one by going to Denmark and England. That was a lot of fun.”
Likely, most people associated Dave with the state’s 4-H horse project. Horse shows, judging contests, communication contests, workshops and clinics were included in the recurring list of activities that reached hundreds of Oklahoma youth every year.
“We had a lot of talented and very benevolent group of volunteers and horse owners that I relied on heavily. Their input, ideas, talents, time and financial help reached the lives of thousands of youths over the course of my time at OSU. I can’t say enough about their willingness to teach the youth and conduct activities. They not only supported the program; I still consider many of them to be my close personal friends.”
Dr. Dave Freeman did wear a lot of hats. They were necessary as he puts it to just doing his job for 30 years. As he states,
“Any which way you look at it, the Oklahoma horse industry is a really big deal that affects the lives of many, many people. It’s full of people that have a genuine interest to better their horses, their horse businesses, and the state of Oklahoma. I just tried to keep doing the little bit I was able to contribute to the cause. Yes, it was a job and like everything in the horse business took up a lot of nights and weekends. No matter what, it was a position that I always felt fortunate and honored to have. Looking back, it’s the friendships that I made that I value the most, and I consider many people involved with OQHA as friends. I appreciate the recognition to be inducted in the OQHA Hall of Fame. Not sure I’m deserving, but nonetheless feel very honored to be part of it.”