Don't Look a Horse in the Mouth—Unless You Have a Veterinary License


If you've spent as much time on farms as I have, you may imagine that floating horse teeth has something to do with a backup of equine urine. It actually refers to the time-honored practice of filing horses' teeth to prevent them from getting uncomfortably long. At the behest of veterinarians (who else?), the state of Minnesota is trying to limit the service to veterinarians, and the Institute for Justice (who else?) is challenging the protectionist regulations in state court.

Should you balk at going to veterinary school just so you can file horse teeth for a living (a technique veterinary schools don't even teach*), Minnesota will give you a pass if you 1) have more than 10 years of experience or 2) pass an exam given by the Dallas-based International Association of Equine Dentistry. "To qualify to take the IAED's test," I.J. notes, "you must float the teeth of 250 horses under the supervision of an existing IAED member. Not only are there no IAED members in Minnesota, it is illegal to float without a license. So, to abide by the law in Minnesota, you must break it."

[*Both Lee McGrath, executive director of I.J.'s Minnesota chapter, and I.J.'s client, Chris Johnson, assert this in the I.J. press release, but commenter Lee, whose wife is a vet, says it isn't true.]

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  1. Jacob Sullum,

    That sounds an awful lot like the same quandry that those trying to get the marijuana stamp were in (back before that law was overturned).

  2. Institute for Justice. Not to be confused with any entity of government.

  3. Uh, non-vets have been floating horse’s teeth since, like, forever. Since equine domestication. These being modern times where people treat livestock animals like pets, and own highly-strung overbred freaks, people often opt to tranquilize before floating. If you wanna give them a nice little happy shot before grinding, you’re probably gonna need to involve a vet to procure said ampule of joy, so most people just end up having the vet administer drug and float at the same time.

    But of course, it is not at all necessary to be an equine vet to float teeth. Stuff like this makes me grind MY teeth in irritation. It’s a naked bid to eliminate competition. And is this really a problem in Minnesota? Are equine vets sitting idle for lack of work? My vet has to be bribed and cajoled into floating – it’s low-level, low-margin work that vets where I live put off doing, until we threaten to take our business elsewhere. Seriously. Every damn year we’re literally beggin’ them to take our damn money to perform this service. Sigh.

  4. Is everyone here enjoying April’s adventures with horses in For Better of For Worse in the comics?

    The only thing I know about horses is that sitting on the back of one somehow seems just wrong. Not to mention precarious.
    Unless it’s a Tennessee Walking Horse.

  5. Ruthless: I am in complete agreement with you on this issue. There’s nothing more pathetic than a man who won’t go anywhere unless he has something to carry him.

  6. From the linked article: “Section 214 of Minnesota state law reads, ‘No regulation shall be imposed upon any occupation unless required for the safety and well-being of the citizens of the state.'”

    I wonder how this might apply to other licensed animal care occupations, such as dog grooming, one of the other big scams as far as government licensing goes, in my opinion.

  7. “(a technique veterinary schools don’t even teach)”

    Would be incorrect. My wife is a vet and was taught how to float teeth in 1992 and a quick call to the clinic just confirmed that the recent grad (in May) learned to float teeth.

    Please update 🙂

  8. That is even more incorrect that I thought. The national board test has teeth floating as one of its questions, so it is probably taught at most vet schools in the nation.

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