Free Minds & Free Markets

Absurd State Licensing Rules Could Send a Woman To Jail Just for Touching a Horse

Of course. State board says she has to go to veterinary school to learn something she already knows and the schools don't teach.

Photo courtesy Laurie WheelerPhoto courtesy Laurie WheelerIf Laurie Wheeler puts her hands on a horse, she could go to jail.

Not because she would hurt the animal—she'd never think of doing such a thing—but because of an anonymous complaint submitted to the state's licensing board that governs veterinary medicine.

Wheeler has been studying horse massage since 2010, when she adopted an abandoned horse suffering from a potentially life-threatening neurological condition known as equine protozoal myeloencephalitis. Her horse, Jazz, was treated with a mix of medication and massage therapy, and Wheeler became interested in the practice. Since then, she's twice been certified in equine massage by an Indiana-based animal therapy school, and, in 2016, successfully obtained a license from the state of Tennessee, where she lives, to practice massage therapy on humans.

She planned to expand her hobby into a professional career working with both equines and equestrians.

Before she could, though, the Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners got involved.

In April, Wheeler received a letter from the board explaining that she wouldn't be allowed to give horse massages in Tennessee without being licensed as a veterinarian—a process that would require years of additional, expensive schooling. If she ignored the board's letter and continued to practice, even if she gave horse massages for free rather than as a business, and she could face fines of up to $500 and could be sent to jail for as much as six months for committing a class B misdemeanor.

That's when she got worried, Wheeler told Reason in a phone interview this week.

"I can be fined heavily or put in jail for massage horses, even if I do it for no money," she said. "I would have to go to veterinary school, and how crazy is that? I wouldn't learn anything about massaging there, because it's not in the curriculum."

As Wheeler pushed back against the board's threats, things started to make even less sense.

In an email shared with Reason, Wheeler asked who had filed a complaint against her, prompting the board's cease-and-desist letter. That was confidential, she was told. A right-to-know request seeking more information was blocked by the board, on the grounds that she was seeking private medical records.

Could she petition the board to change their rules regarding horse massages? No, "it wouldn't help to petition the Board," she was told by Keith Hodges, an attorney for the board, in an email dated July 18, 2016, because the definition of veterinary medicine was a matter of state law—even though the relevant state law says nothing about animal massaging.

What if she wasn't getting paid, she asked, would that make a difference?

"Arguably, compensation shouldn't matter," Hodges wrote back, since the purpose of the law is "to protect the public from being misled by incompetent, unscrupulous and unauthorized practitioners" and says nothing about being paid.

As Wheeler learned more about the board's rules, she found more head-scratching inconsistencies.

Giving a massage to a horse in Tennessee requires a veterinary license, but a resident of the state can castrate a horse or artificially inseminate a horse without being licensed—even though both of those activities would seem to have more in common with a vet's medical training than anything Wheeler was doing.

"That's an arbitrary and inconsistent restriction on the liberty to work," says Braden Boucek, the director of litigation for the Nashville-based Beacon Center, a free market think tank.

Photo courtesy Laurie WheelerPhoto courtesy Laurie WheelerBoucek has been working with Wheeler (and another woman, Martha Stowe, who has similarly been told by the state Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners that she can't practice horse massages) on the legal ramifications of her conflict with the board. No lawsuit has been filed as of this writing, but Boucek believes the two women would have a strong case if they decided to pursue it—and if the board refuses to back down.

Horse massaging is a relatively obscure but growing profession. Increased interest in alternatives to traditional medical treatments in American healthcare has spilled over into an expanding use of similar cures for pets and livestock. The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, which represents vets who practice alternative forms of treatment, has grown from having less than 50 members in 1982 to more than 1,000 members last year.

"They're trying to build out their own holistic practices, and I don't blame them for doing that," says Richard Valdez, a Tennessee-based practitioner of horse massage therapy who offers his services to both equines and riders. "Overall, though, I feel like they're just trying to take control."

Valdez has been doing horse massages for 20 years and has worked with horses that competed on the U.S. Olympic team and at the World Equestrian Games. Like Wheeler, he's licensed as a human massage therapist in the state and has a private certification in equine massage, but he is not licensed as a veterinarian in Tennessee. He says therapy differs from veterinary treatment in several ways, but is a useful tool for competitive horses—which he likens to highly trained athletes or elite racing cars—and riders, to ensure they're performing at their highest levels.

"Examination-wise, treatment-wise, it addresses something that's really not taught in veterinary school and it's a great evaluation tool for the rider and for the horse," he says.

Bringing a harmless and potentially profitable practice under the broader umbrella of veterinary medicine does nothing help Wheeler and her horse (or her potential clients), but it does serve the interests of Tennessee veterinarians. Perhaps it's not surprising to learn that six of the board's seven voting members are veterinarians or vet technicians.

The board did not respond to calls and emails from Reason for this story. According to its website, the board's "mission is to safeguard the health, safety, and welfare of Tennesseans by insuring that all who practice as a veterinarian, veterinary medical technician, or euthanasia technician within this state are qualified."

In going after Wheeler, though, it doesn't seem like the board is too interested in her qualifications.

"It is the Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners opinion," Hodges wrote to Wheeler in an email, that "only veterinarians and persons working under the responsible supervision of veterinarians can massage animals."

Hodges did not respond to emails from Reason on Thursday.

Running afoul of the Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners is easier than might be expected. A review of sanctions handed down by the board during 2016 shows that licensees can be fined or have their licenses revoked for a wide range of activities, some of which have nothing to do with the practice of veterinary medicine. In March 2016, the board suspected a license due to unpaid student loans. In May, another suspension was handed down when a licensee failed to pay child support.

Wheeler says she's not really sure why the board came after her—and her efforts to find out why have so far been fruitless.

"I think it is just a power trip. It just seems so completely absurd to me," Wheeler says. "It seems like there are boards across the U.S. that do this, and there just needs to be some reform."

Some reforms are happening, slowly.

Arizona's State Veterinary Medical Examining Board agreed this week to drop a similar licensing requirement. In an agreement signed last week by Judge David Udall, the board said it would no longer require animal massage practitioners, who provide therapeutic services to dogs, horses, and other animals, to obtain a veterinary license.

It's worth noting that exactly zero states require masseuses to be licensed as physicians before giving massages to humans. Such a requirement would make little sense, of course, and the same logic should apply here.

It's time for the Tennessee board's unbridled authority to ride off into the sunset, Boucek says.

"There is no health and safety concern to massaging a horse, so this is not a legitimate field to regulate," Boucek said. "Even if it were, requiring vet school is not a reasonable means of achieving that goal."

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Not a True MJG||


  • AlexInCT||

    More like what was she touching?

  • SQRLSY One||

    I know it's a nit-pick, but...

    She's not being busted for touching horses, we're mostly free to do that...

    She's being busted for taking ***$$$ MONEY $$$*** for touching horses! And we all know that money is EVIL!!! (Except when Government Almighty moves it around).

    She should try the religious freedom angle, like Scientology does... Take "donations" to the Church of Horse Touching, in exchange for her services...

  • SQRLSY One||

    Suggestion for fending off piggy-wiggies in such cases:

    Guard yourself (horse touchers or similar) from Government Almighty's Wrath, by doing the following: Find the oaths and rituals of the State of Tennessee (in this case), and of the Feds, and have them ready. Now, set up a video camera and an off-site storage space for video footage (so that Government Almighty may not confiscate your data). See the following web site: ... Which I will now excerpt from: "Qik and UStream, two services available for both the iPhone and Android phones, allow instant online video streaming and archiving. Once you stop recording, the video is instantly saved online. Both services also allow you to send out a mass email or notice to your Twitter followers when you have posted a new video from your phone. Not only will your video of police misconduct be preserved, but so will the video of the police officer illegally confiscating your phone (assuming you continue recording until that point)."

  • SQRLSY One||

    Then, before they can buy ANY "forbidden" horse touching, require ALL of your new customers, in front of said camera, to swear up and down on a stack of Bibles or on their mother's grave or whatever sacred rituals they do in court these days… Have them SWEAR they are practicing their religious freedoms to buy horse touching, and that they are NOT agents of Government Almighty! Then when they haul you up on charges, have your lawyer trot out said video of Government Almighty jack-booted thugs, and ask the jury. "Now, just exactly WHY should you believe this person's testimony?"

  • Diane Merriam||

    The story said she had explicitly asked that and that the board told her that no, she couldn't even do it for free.

  • SQRLSY One||

    OK, I am busted, I did not read it thoroughly enough...

    My Good Government Almighty, one cannot even touch a horse for FREE??!?!? We live in a Pig State run amuck! WHERE are our woodchippers!??!?!

  • Marty Feldman's Eyes||

    And keep in mind states do this for human massage- my favorite massage therapist had to stop because Oregon requires an ridiculous amount of "training", which naturally costs many, many thousands of dollars. For something she already knows how to do better than 99% of currently licensed massagers.

  • DesigNate||

    I think Marty just admitted to sex trafficking.

  • Marty Feldman's Eyes||

    Oh you people and your never-ending well of dirty mindedness...

    Some people actually need legit massages. And people thinking massage=happy ending is one of the reasons for these stupid licensing requirements- they think it cuts that down.

  • Praveen R.||

    Actually I would say Happy Endings should be legal and unlicensed. There are no health concerns. The only restriction should be age limits. And maybe zoning.

  • The_Kat||

    Your massage therapist is lucky she doesn't need a medical degree to be a licensed masseuse. That would be the equivalent to what this Wheeler woman is facing. Both are ridiculous.

    I have to wonder if the TN board thinks horse owners will forego veterinarian care in lieu of massage therapy or some such clap trap.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Christ, what a boardload of assholes.

  • Libertymike||

    What a boardload of horse's asses.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Isn't this the second time we've been given this story?

  • Ken Shultz||

    Yeah, I was thinking of the Arizona story . . .

    There was also this story from 2014

    In all seriousness, I knew there was a reason I thought I'd heard something about horse massage, and I knew I'm not going to read about horse massage at CNN.

    It's a Reason thang.

  • Libertymike||

    Its a good thang that Reason brings this bad thang.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Why, it's almost as though licensing boards in general are hella shitty phenomena!

  • ||

    I knew there was a reason I thought I'd heard something about horse massage

    Rule 34?

  • XenoZooValentine||

    Bronies hardest hit.

  • Zunalter||

    First they came for the horse masseuses...

  • Brochettaward||

    I, too, have been threatened with jail time if I ever touched a horse again.

  • John Titor||

    "My girlfriend is not a whale!"

    "Well whatever she is, she just ate a bucket of chum."

  • juris imprudent||

    You filling in for Crusty?

  • Libertymike||

    If they read H & R comments, you'll be the first person they arrest..... : )

    Don't worry, John or R C or I will represent you.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Don't respond to it.

  • XenoZooValentine||

    I usually condense she/he/it to s/h/it for the sake of convenience.

  • chemjeff||

    Insert obligatory Catherine the Great joke here.

  • knockatize||

    Insert obligatory Carl Paladino reference in response.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    She died in the saddle, they say.

  • Incredulous||

    Sooo... They suspended licenses for failure to pay student loans and child support??? WTF??? Seems like these victims of the Board would have a cause to sue. How can the Board suspend a license for completely unrelated matters? And how the fuck is destroying their livelihood supposed to help them pay back loans or child support? They seem like power mad tyrants.

  • Jerryskids||

    The state will suspend all your licenses - business, driver's, fishing - for failure to pay child support and a few other things.

    Here's an idea: it's well-known that restaurants are one of the easiest businesses to get into and go broke at. People think a good cook is the key to success when the key to success is a good accountant. Just because you can make good food doesn't mean you can make money at making good food.

    So what if we set up a restaurant board and required restaurant owners to get a degree in restaurant management - cooking, nutrition, safe food handling, food-borne illnesses, plus health department rules and business and tax and employment laws, economics of running a small business, marketing and advertising, etc. You think anybody would bat an eye at that? And what if there was a convenience store board and a shoe store board and a lawn mower repair shop board and a board for every damn business you could possibly think of - in fact, just make it mandatory that any business has to have a relevant business board and if you want to open a business there's currently no board for you have to file an application with the state to create such a board? This would all fall under the general consumer-protection mandate of the state, wouldn't it?

  • JR Robble Dobbs||

    Didn't we have this 400 years ago with trade guilds? How did that work out for us?

  • ||

    Didn't we have this 400 years ago with trade guilds? How did that work out for us?

    You mean the Rennaissance?

  • Jerryskids||

    Mandatory college degrees for everybody who wants to work for themselves to prove they know what they're doing - and then we start requiring certification for anybody who wants to work for anybody else to prove they're properly trained to be an employee.

  • AlexInCT||

    State's gotta be able to pick winners and losers, ya know...

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    That is pretty much the state of things already; I personally cannot think of any form of paid work [above minimum wage...] that does not already require this.

  • Jickerson||

    There are a number of individual employers who don't require degrees, at least when it comes to software development. On the other hand, most do seem to require a degree.

    I absolutely refuse to get a degree on principle. Our paper-worshiping culture is disgusting and needs to vanish, since it values pieces of paper above one's actual level of education.

  • chemjeff||

    in fact, just make it mandatory that any business has to have a relevant business board

    Syndicalism FTW!

  • Voros McCracken||

    "How can the Board suspend a license for completely unrelated matters?"

    Because, FYTW.

  • Trainer||

    In Texas they can suspend all kinds of licenses for not behaving. You can get your DL suspended if you don't pay for gas. If your a sole proprietorship or a partner in a business and don't pay your sales tax they can suspend your CHL. Not paying child support will get most professional licenses suspended as well as your DL. Once the state has some control, they really like to use it.

  • The Grinch||

    Massaging the horse looks like it's definitely out but strangling the aardvark would probably be OK.

  • The Fusionist||

    Neigh means Nay.

  • Rhywun||

    Did you hear the one about the Pope and Raquel Welch in a lifeboat?

  • Macy's Window||

    The old one?

  • Vhyrus||

    Who? The Pope or Raquel Welch?

  • ronb28135||

    She should give the Institute for Justice a call. IJ is experienced in overturning burdensome licensing laws like horse massage.

    "Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board agreed to stop enforcing the state's veterinary laws against animal massage practitioners. The laws made it illegal for anyone except licensed veterinarians to provide animal massage."

  • Ausves||

    I wonder if she's allowed to massage horses of her own? If so, it should be easy enough for owners to "sell" her their horses for a dollar and buy them back again for a dollar after the massage. Of course that would require placing some trust in Laurie, but it's worth a try...

  • Cloudbuster||

    This is, apparently, a practice in Ohio, where only veterinarians are allowed to float teeth. Done just as you say: sold for $1, bought back for $1 + an additional fee that has absolutely nothing to do with floating teeth!

  • Cloudbuster||

    As a horse owner, I'm of the opinion that horse massage is as useless as virtually all "alternative medicine" practices (homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropracty, aromatherapy -- you name it), for anything but soothing sore muscles. But it's also very likely to do no harm and certainly doesn't need to be regulated.

  • gah87||


  • The_Kat||

    That was my impression. It is harmless so what's the TN board's beef? Do grooms have to become vets too? Sometimes they administer ointment. Or should they be licensed farriers because they clean horses' hooves? It's crazy.

  • Longtobefree||

    Anybody want to join in creating a board to license politicians? How about "journalists"?

  • Vhyrus||

    But who watches the watchmen?

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: Absurd State Licensing Rules Could Send A Woman To Jail Just for Touching a Horse
    Of course. State board says she has to go to veterinary school to learn something she already knows and the schools don't teach.

    Without licensing, permits and governmental administrative fees, there would be fewer government regulations, fewer bureaucrats and fewer politicians trying to enslave us.
    That's why we have licensing in the first place.
    Otherwise we might be living in a free country.

  • Robert||

    Horses act a lot like dogs & cats w.r.t. people. They're imitative. Only trouble is, they're not good judges of their size relative to you, so while you can easily teach them to give paw-paw, they'll knock you down in the process.

  • RLABruce||

    Horses glad to see each other do chest butts. I learned that when I was caring for my employer's horse, and learned to flick water at him as he thundered up to butt me; he shied back before he knocked me down.

  • Bubba Jones||

    I suppose that the argument is a masseuse might overlook a medical need and this might indirectly harm the horse.

    But these guys are dicks.

    I also suppose that the practices of insemination and castration by farmers long predate the concept of a veterinary board.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    Did the horse at least ejaculate first?

  • jbsnc||

    How many Middle East countries does the US rank behind in Freedom Of Enterprise? 6, 7, 8,something like that? The current Democrat Party seems mostly concerned with implementing Fascist, Socialist government and most GOPers seem to have one priority: Themselves. Would CNN, NYT, WaPo etc. allow freedom to be re:introduced in the USA? I do not believe so. What is by far the richest bureaucrat population on Earth after, of course, the USA? In this age, 90% of the population that doesn't seek a government job is foolish. And how do they vote? 93% Dem, 7% GOP?

  • Evil Klown||

    A bunch of lawyers and vets writing laws for everyone else. How does it feel to be a slave?

  • Mindyourbusiness||

    Just goes to prove there are always more horses' asses than there are horses.

  • RLABruce||

    Who the hell gave veterinarians jurisdiction over massage therapy? That is like saying that THEY are the only ones allowed to board, pet-sit or care for vacationers' pets. Mind your own business, vets! You will lose far more business by asserting your authority over massages than you would ever lose to business competition from massage therapists. If you don't believe me, just make your position on massage known to your existing customers and watch your business disappear. No one likes freedom-stealing fascists!

  • Trainer||

    "That is like saying that THEY are the only ones allowed to board, pet-sit or care for vacationers' pets."

    Don't think they haven't gone there. If there is money and animals involved, they've probably tried to regulate it.

  • SomeGuy||

    The title made me smile...better words should be used for your case.

    Granted, I am not one to judge. If you enjoy sex with a horse and the horse (or any animate or inanimate object) doesn't seem to mind....none of my business....or anyone else's.

  • Juan Who Knows||

    I live in Tennessee, and this is NOT surprising. The state JUST legalized the keeping of turtles as pets last summer (long and very stupid story). Anything regarding animals/livestock is completely controlled by several boards or agencies full of "good ol' boys" who can (and do) arbitrarily create laws/restrictions based on their whims, opinions or those of their political allies. Animals that have NEVER caused a human death are illegal for "safety" reasons, yet animals which DO kill people (horses, cows, dogs, etc.) are okay. There are a lot of great things about the state of Tennessee, but its Department of Agriculture, its Wildlife Resources Agency, its Health Department and its Veterinary Board are NOT among them. This story is CLEARLY about a woman making money helping animals, and the establishment can't have that. Hopefully, a lot of negative press will shine a strong enough light on these cretins and push them back into their caves.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Is it true that in Tennessee, I need to get a prescription from a degreed EE (Electrical Engineer) before I can buy a PC, stereo, radio, or Bro Box?

  • SomeGuy||

    They cant regulate dogs only because people wont let them. They regulate turtles because not enough people care.

    They regulate just to be a fucking dick. If the state can control it they will.

  • SomeGuy||

    FYI Illinois is the exact same. Its pathetic.

  • Juan Who Knows||

    Totally agree with all four sentences, SomeGuy. But especially, "Just. To. Be. A. Fucking. DICK."

  • JeremyR||

    So is she going to get deported for sex work?

  • gah87||

    The Fast and the Furryous

  • Trainer||

    They try to do the same thing with dog behavior every now and again- make it so that no trainer can do behavior except under supervision of a vet. Sometimes they even talk about making regular training illegal unless done under the supervision of a vet. Of course, vets don't learn training or any real behavior in vet school. And it's the organizations that have a money making certification system in place who push this. Maybe it is important though. I mean, no one wants a dog or people to die just because an uncertified trainer taught a dog to sit incorrectly.

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    Sounds like the Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners holds too many of its meetings in Lynchburg.

  • MuneShadowe||

    Ever notice anytime someone wants to make a living honestly someone wants into their wallet?

  • Cyto||

    Hey, you got linked on Drudge!

    Welcome to the home of liberty on the internet! Stay a while and read all of the great reporting on issues related to your freedom.

  • OutThere||

    I hope this story has "a happy ending".

  • XenoZooValentine||

    A horse is a horse, of course, of course,
    and everyone knows you can't massage a horse
    until we make you take a course
    in Veterinary Ed!

  • Animal||

    *golf clap*

  • PeacePlanet||

    How is grooming a horse different from massaging it? The intention??

    Should only farriers pick hooves before and after rides? What about during rides?

    I detest regulatory agencies!
    America has too many unelected "judges"!

  • Admiral Stubing||

    Oh crap, I need to find out if I'm violating any laws by spanking my monkey without a license. And flogging my dolphin, and cooking my chicken, and stroking my weasel without a license - I am unlicensed for any of that, I think.

  • Admiral Stubing||

    Choking, not cooking.

  • buybuydandavis||

    Not that there's anything wrong with that.

  • richj||

    OK, here is a hack (work around the system). The horse owner, sells the horse to the person wanting to massage the horse (read pet the horse for the term massage.) The "new owner" then "pets their new horse". Then after petting the horse, sells it back to the original owner, as they have decided that they did not want to own a horse.

    The Vet board has NO jurisdiction over the owner of the horse. As long as the "petting" does not endanger the horse even the local Animal Control folks have no say.

    So..done deal

  • Fmcart||

    If you don't mind the sales tax and/or required veterinarian checkup or whatever the state mandates when a horse is sold. Maybe there's none of these things but I would check first with a lawyer, who will charge for the service.

  • JoelWeymouth||

    Of course the laws are insane. These boards are controlled by people who want to keep the money within those they "certify". In other words: we love them who love us.

    What she could conceivably do:

    Find a Veterinarian that agrees with the procedure. Then work with him under his supervision. In the meantime, change the rules and the law through the state legislature.
    She could also call it deep horse grooming. When you are done riding a horse, you groom it, why call it massage, call it grooming- that is legal.

    I suspect the complaint came from a local veterinarian that is angry she cured the horse when the veterinarian couldn't.

  • Fmcart||

    I'm reminded of Alice's Restaurant.

    He said, "What were you arrested for, kid?" and I said, "Touching a horse"'...
    And they all moved away from me on the bench there, with the hairy eyeball.

  • Snort||

    To quote this story, the "Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners" website says it's "mission is to safeguard the health, safety, and welfare of Tennesseans by insuring that all who practice as a veterinarian, veterinary medical technician, or euthanasia technician within this state are qualified." This leads me to my question, Is Laurie Wheeler claiming a massage is "medicine", has "medicinal value" or helps "heal" a horse? If so she should probably be charged for defrauding her customers, arrested, tried and sent to jail. After all, if she did the same thing to a person she could be charged with practicing medicine without a license as well as fraud.

  • buybuydandavis||

    "Arguably, compensation shouldn't matter," Hodges wrote back, since the purpose of the law is "to protect the public from being misled by incompetent, unscrupulous and unauthorized practitioners" and says nothing about being paid.

    Fuck off, slaver.

  • Rational Exuberance||

    "Mr. Ed, where exactly did Mrs. Wheeler touch you, and would you describe the touch as 'unwanted'?"

  • SavedByZero||

    I...yeah. This is stupid. It should rub everyone the wrong way.

  • kaanseadai22||

    Well I think that this is going to work for sure in the best way possible Snapchat Login


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