Massage Illegal in Arizona?

Should a massage therapist be a veterinarian to work on a horse?

Massage therapists in Arizona have been told to stop massaging horses for money or face arrest. And, in response, the massage professionals have filed a lawsuit to overturn the law.

The lawsuit calls the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board’s decision that only licensed veterinarians can massage horses “irrational.” 

The suit has been filed by Celeste Kelly, Grace Granatelli and Stacey Kollman, who are certified in animal massage and have been practicing in Arizona. If they don’t comply with the law they face possible jail time and hefty fines.

Apparently, this all came to be when an anonymous tip was received by the state of Arizona that Celeste Kelly was practicing veterinary medicine. This resulted in a letter telling her to stop her practice of massage.

Arizona isn’t the only state that won’t allow equine massage without a veterinary degree. Arkansas, Maine and Massachusetts also forbid it. Other states only allow it under veterinary supervision, while some allow anyone to massage a horse.

The inconsistency among states isn’t surprising. Laws for equine dentists and chiropractors vary as well. There’s even been a push in years past to require farriers to only work under veterinary supervision.

I’ve seen non-veterinarian professionals do an incredible job massaging horses and working on teeth. Some, much like nurse practitioners with human patients, take a longer time to evaluate your horse and seem to have a sixth sense about the horse’s body. But they have limitations.

We had a highly regarded dental technician do our horses’ teeth about a decade ago. He said he wasn’t allowed to tranquilize the horses and would not do a horse who was not sedated. Ridiculous. If we need to have the veterinarian out to sedate the horses, why not simply ask the veterinarian to float the teeth? We were able to sedate the horses, so he could do the work, and he did a great job. But if he isn’t allowed to sedate the animals for a procedure he’s licensed to do, what’s the point?

Laws that restrict uneducated people from working on animals – whether feet, body or dental – make sense. They should require that the person become educated and receive certification from a recognized school, like Equissage, for massage. They should also require proof of continuing education in order to renew their license.

But laws that stopped educated, certified professionals from practicing their trade do not make sense. I don’t understand why a state that allows non-physicians to do massage on humans won’t allow a non-veterinarian to do massage on an animal. It’s much more difficult to work the muscles of a 1,100-lb. horse than a 120-lb. woman. And why on earth would Arizona allow these women to continue to massage horses if the women were willing to provide the services for free? What is the goal here? Clearly, it’s not protecting the horses.

By the way, if you want to massage your own horse – even in Arizona – you’re free to do so. We even know the right tools for you to use. See our article. Just don’t charge your horse for your services.

UPDATE: Read the article in DVM360 about the pending lawsuit!


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