equine massage in new york — a look at the legalities

Not a veterinarian? It’s against the law to offer equine massage in New York – even if you’re a certified equine massage therapist.

When a Certified Equine Sports Massage Therapist in New York was ordered to cease and desist her horse massage therapy business, the Government Justice Center (GJC) – an Albany-based, not-for-profit legal center – stepped in to defend her. Because she’s not a licensed veterinarian, Lori Smith was in violation of NY’s regulations: that only licensed veterinarians, or vet techs under the direct supervision of licensed veterinarians, can practice this complementary therapy on horses.

Animal massage is non-invasive, and has been shown to increase endorphins, improve blood circulation, muscle tone and flexibility. Horse massage therapists do not diagnose and/or treat animals in any medical way, and Smith’s website, Five Feathers Equine Massage, stated this clearly. GJC filed a lawsuit against the state on behalf of Smith after she was threatened with criminal charges.

“New York State is arbitrarily putting an unnecessary burden on an individual trying to exercise her right to earn a living and harmlessly pursue her passion,” says Cameron Macdonald, executive director of GJC. “Requiring eight or more years of unrelated schooling for equine massage therapy not only frustrates Lori from exercising her rights, but it also needlessly over-regulates the routine care of beloved animals and pets.”

According to Macdonald, New York’s definition of veterinary practice is so broad and arbitrarily applied that Smith’s rights to pursue her vocation are being violated under the United States and New York Constitutions. He and his colleagues are hoping that their defensive action will lead to a re-evaluation of horse massage laws in New York. “I know that the Beacon Center in Tennessee filed a lawsuit that resulted in a positive change to that state’s law to allow equine massage,” he says. “Also, Institute for Justice has had successes in Maryland and Arizona.”