My Soapbox for Equestrian Writings

Do you have a license for that Massage?

Equine Massage

Your horse is a little stiff. Last time you felt like that, you felt terrific after you had a massage. The problem? In some states, massage is considered a veterinary procedure and must be administered, or supervised, by a vet. In fact, equine massage is only one service where licensing is becoming an issue. Equine dentistry (vet vs. having your horse’s teeth floated) and even farrier work is under the microscope.

Equine massage kind of falls into its own category for me. While I certainly like my own massage therapists to be licensed and/or certified, when it comes to horses and body work, some of the people who’ve worked on my horse weren’t certified. Of course, many were, but some of those didn’t do the greatest job. And don’t get me started on equine chiropractors. The very worst one that worked on my horse was actually a vet!

A little bodywork that is part of saddle fitting.

I don’t actually have a problem with certifications but I do draw the line at having your veterinarian required to supervise or provide massage services. If I had to take into consideration the added cost and logistical coordination required to get my vet out every time I wanted my horse to get a massage, they would get them even less than I do! Not to mention, my vets are so busy already, I can’t imagine that they would want to tie up an hour of their time to give my horses massages.

Much of the time I do my own form of massage/acupressure on my horses. I’ve picked up some techniques using Jim Masterson’s CD and workbook and have learned a few things from my saddle fitter,

TMJ adjustment
Freedom having his TMJ adjusted.

various vets, and the better massage therapists that I’ve used. Nothing that I do has the potential to injure my horse and it, at least, makes me feel closer to my horses when I have put my hands on them, felt where they are tense or where their muscles are knotted, and where they are sensitive or sore. That baseline of information is very helpful because it lets me know when something has changed in their bodies; information that I can share with my vet if I think there’s something wrong.

But, while I’m safe in Massachusetts if I put my amateur hands on a friends horse, it’s best to know the laws in your state. There is no unified regulation in the US. Each state has its own laws — and the legality of equine massage can change from year to year!

Using this site as a resource, I’ve listed only those states with restrictions:

  • Alabama – Only vets can perform
  • Alaska – Allowed with direct vet supervision.
  • Arizona – Only vets can perform.
  • Arkansas – Only vets can perform.
  • Colorado – Requires certification from an approved school.
  • Delaware – Allowed with direct vet supervision.
  • Hawaii – Allowed with direct vet supervision.
  • Illinois – Previously allowed, now under discussion
  • Indiana — Unclear. “Complimentary or alternative therapy” is defined as the practice of veterinary medicine.
  • Iowa – Not specifically called out but, vet board states “animal physical therapy, veterinary acupuncture and acupressure, animal chiropractic, and all other branches or specialties of veterinary medicine” as the practice of veterinary medicine.
  • Kansas – Allowed with veterinary supervision.
  • Kentucky – Gray area.
  • Louisiana – Allowed with direct vet supervision.
  • Maine – Only vets can perform.
  • Mississippi – Allowed with direct vet supervision.
  • Missouri – Allowed with direct vet supervision.
  • Nebraska – Allowed with direct vet supervision.
  • Nevada – Gray area.
  • New Jersey – Gray area.
  • New Mexico – Allowed with direct vet supervision.
  • New York. Only vets or veterinary techs under vet supervision.
  • Ohio – Allowed with direct vet supervision.
  • Oklahoma – Allowed with vet referral.
  • Oregon – Allowed with vet referral.
  • Pennsylvania – Allowed with direct vet supervision.
  • Rhode Island – Allowed with direct vet supervision.
  • South Carolina – Vet may delegate.
  • Texas – Allowed under general or direct vet supervision.
  • Utah — Allowed with vet referral.
  • Vermont – Allowed with direct vet supervision.
  • Virginia – Vet may delegate.
  • Wisconsin – Allowed with direct vet supervision.

Note: I have heard that in some states where “massage” is no longer legal. You can pay someone to “rub” your horse.

What do you think about massage? Should it be performed only by people who have been certified, making it similar to human massage? Should it be regulated as a veterinary practice? Write in and let me know your thoughts.


12 thoughts on “Do you have a license for that Massage?

  1. This kind of scope of practice complication is one of the reasons I stopped doing sports massage therapy as a business here in NC. No vets I know think they should be the only ones able to do massage therapy. They all seemed to feel that it’s the AVMA over-reaching.

    I think I probably would have been “safe” because I almost always had veterinary approval, but having to have direct supervision by a veterinarian is – frankly – ridiculous. I also probably could’ve just said I was doing Reiki and “grooming” or “rubbing” the horse at the same time, but I didn’t like feeling that I had to stretch the truth to do my work. So, I dropped that line of business.

    The whole thing is silly, in my opinion.

    1. I completely agree. There are some things where I feel regulation is probably a good idea — for example, I don’t think that horses should be sedated to have their teeth done by someone who isn’t a vet — but the restrictions can become ridiculous. Certainly, when Freedom was having some troubling lameness issues (which turned out to be Lyme), I shared the reports from my massage therapist with him, which he found helpful. Each person has a perspective and an expertise to add to the overall picture. He’s not a massage therapist, but it was helpful for him to know what she found. Since he’s also her vet, I don’t think he had any objections to my choice, either.

  2. back in the 1990’s New Mexico massage therapists were trying to pass legislation requiring MD’s, Chiropractors, Acupuncturists, Nurses etc… to get massage licenses to touch their (human) patients. That backfired and perhaps it was a good thing. A few weeks of massage school really does not train anyone to diagnose injuries and illnesses. Now it seems that the backlash is still thriving, making people who want to massage their horse have to get veterinary supervision.
    How much of licensing issues are based interdisciplinary competition and how much is in reaction to outrageous claims and behavior by unscrupulous folks I do not know. I like to see some sort of middle ground… but 20+ years of insanity in massage certification here in NM does not give me much hope

    1. It would be nice to see common sense rule, but it’s unlikely to happen. I’m lucky that my vet, my farrier and my massage therapist are able to co-exist and work together.

    2. Saraannon, you’re correct, a few weeks doesn’t give them the training they need to diagnose injuries/illness. If the massage therapist is trained correctly they shouldn’t be diagnosing ANYTHING. All diagnoses should be Vet only and the therapist should come in after the Vet has made the diagnosis. The vets shouldn’t have to supervise if it’s just preventative maintenance or if they’ve done the diagnosis. I feel Vets shouldn’t govern massage because they don’t learn it in school. They should be more concerned about farrier work. We all know one wrong trim and the horse is lame.

      1. Equine sports medicine has been a board certified specialty since 2008, although I just found that out recently. Hopefully more vets will be educated in preventing injuries and more tech and vet assistants will be able to do hands on work with a little know-how behind their efforts. What that will look like is beyond my ability to guess. I suspect some of it depends on what horse owners demand.

      2. I wholeheartedly agree! Massage therapy is not meant to diagnose, but it CAN be used to aid in recovery and prevention, as well as performance optimization.
        Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve met too many vets who really advocate for massage. Not that they are against it. It’s just not something that they are trained to use so I don’t think it’s something that they think about all that often. I don’t think I know one vet that I could pay to watch me massage a horse either, so if you want to legally require a vet to supervise it, you may as well say they are required to give the massage.
        I believe it would be better to make it legal with certification and set guidelines to specify that diagnostics and medical treatment still falls under veterinary medicine.

      3. I will say that my vet, when diagnosing Freedom’s intermittent lameness, did read through the reports from my massage therapist. In the end, he had Lyme, but my vet considered all the inputs.

    1. A gray area is where there are no laws that either allow or disallow. Some states simply don’t specify. What I learned when writing that post is that state regulations change, too. Older references were different from the newer ones I found. I hope that you never have a problem!

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