Monday, 16 August 2010 10:55

Horses and the Law “Government Intrusion Into Horse Massage”

Written by  Kenneth C. Sandoe, Attorney-at-Law
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Disclaimer -This article is intended as general discussion and information on the topic covered, and is not to be construed as rendering legal advice. If legal advice is needed, you should contact an attorney. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in any manner without prior written permission of the author..

I previously wrote about the government’s intrusion into the horse world in the Summer and Autumn 2008 issues of The Draft Horse Journal. There I wrote about the government’s position to regulate teeth floaters because the state of Minnesota felt teeth floating was the practice of veterinary medicine. Unfortunately, the Minnesota Court hearing the case agreed with the state and held that Minnesota could restrict and regulate teeth floaters, essentially putting teeth floaters out of business.

The government intrusion continues. The next area in which government seeks to rule the horse world is animal massage therapy. A lawsuit was recently filed in the state of Maryland by the Institute for Justice, on behalf of a Maryland animal massage therapist. The massage therapist, Mercedes Clemens, has been practicing animal massage therapy, particularly horses, in the state of Maryland. She began her business and became very popular with her clients. Ms. Clemens wanted to engage in an occupation which she enjoyed and, after successfully completing two courses in equine massage and being privately certified by an animal massage school, she began her business and set up a website for equine-massage. Since opening her business, Ms. Clemens continued her education and became a Maryland licensed massage therapist and has taught others how to perform animal massage.

Ms. Clemens’ entrepreneurial spirit is a classic example of the American dream where she is engaging in something she enjoys and is quite good at it. However, her popularity caught the attention of the American Board of Chiropractic Examiners, the group that licenses massage therapists who work on people, and the Maryland State Board of Veterinary Examiners. Both organizations ordered Ms. Clemens to take down her website and shut down her business immediately.

The Boards argued that Ms. Clemens was practicing “veterinary medicine” by massaging horses and unless she restricted her practice to massaging people she would be subject to fines, revocation of her massage-therapist license and even criminal prosecution if she did not obey the Order of the Maryland State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners.

In order for Ms. Clemens to meet the requirements of the State Board, she would have to be a licensed veterinarian spending an additional four years in veterinary school at a cost of approximately $175,000. As a result Ms. Clemens’ business has been halted and she filed a lawsuit on June 10, 2008, challenging the constitutionality of the veterinarians' animal-massage monopoly. She is taking on Maryland’s Chiropractic and Veterinary Boards in an effort to preserve an entrepreneur’s right to pursue an honest living, free from unreasonable government intrusion. The case is in its early stages and we do not know how the Maryland Court will rule. However, once again, I come down on the side of the massage therapists.

Should we only allow medical doctors to massage people? It is irrational and absurd to insist that only veterinarians massage horses. Frankly, as in the teeth floating area, shutting out skilled practitioners will result in worse animal care. Veterinary schools teach little or nothing about animal massage and hardly any veterinarians offer the service. This is the same with teeth floating. Veterinary schools offer little teaching and no practical hands-on experience in these areas. For example, most veterinarians do not float teeth and will admit that it is not something they like to do. The practical affect of what the state of Maryland is attempting to do is remove people with experience and skill in this area while offering little or no other choice to Maryland horse owners but to pay more for lower quality care or no care at all.

These are troubling times. Government intrusion is everywhere. The government is bailing out and becoming majority owners of our largest banks, insurance companies, mortgage companies and so on. Does government really know best? Do bureaucrats with little or no experience with horses know more than those of us who spend time with our animals on a daily basis? I fear that if this intrusion continues our independent spirit and work ethic will be undermined. As I stated in the Autumn 2008 issue of The Draft Horse Journal, “The Verdict”:

“The decision simply allows for Government intrusion into yet another area of the horse world. This case is essentially an economic liberty case. Economic liberty includes the right to earn an honest living without government intrusion. It is a fact that many horsemen and women are independent self-reliant people who have been taking care of their horses for a long time without the government telling them how to do it. The American spirit of independence continues to be eroded by the expansion of government and the intrusion by government into our daily lives.”

You do not need a medical degree to massage humans, why then, is a veterinary degree needed to massage animals?

Enough legal talk–it’s time to hitch horses.

Ken is a practicing attorney in Myerstown, PA, where a good bit of his practice involves negligence cases. Ken and his wife, Karen, own Sunny Hill Farm Belgians, and they have been exhibiting their six-horse hitch for the past few years at most major shows in the East.

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