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Regulation madness: State agency threatens to jail and fine Tennessee woman if she touches a horse

HOLD FOR HANNAH WEIKEL STORY - Nancy Turner, board president of This Old Horse rescue, pets a wild horse In this Feb. 3, 2017 photo, in rural Hastings, Minn. where dozens of wild horses have found a home. The effort to find homes for hundreds of wild horses near Lantry, in north-central South Dakota, isn’t done, according to Elaine Nash, director of horse rescue organization Fleet of Angels, who is spearheading the operation of placing the horses in sanctuaries and ranches across the country. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

A Tennessee woman who wants to help horses with medical conditions is being threatened with fines and jail time if she attempts to use her training in order to do so.

Laurie Wheeler has been studying equine massage since 2010, and has even been certified in the specialty twice by an animal therapy school in Indiana. She began her journey into horse massage therapy after her adopted horse, Jazz, suffered from a serious medical condition called equine protozoal myeloencephalitis and had to be treated with a regimen of medication combined with massage therapy. In 2016, Wheeler even went so far as to become licensed to practice massage therapy on humans, too, so she could begin practicing on horses and those who ride horses.

But an anonymous complaint sent to the Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners derailed Wheeler's business plans in April. She received a letter from the board stating that in order to give massages to horses, she needed to become a licensed veterinarian, something she would of course have to pay for several more years of school in order to achieve.

The letter also warned her that if she continued to massage horses, even without being compensated, she could be ordered to pay fines of up to $500, and could even be sentenced to 6-months jail time for committing a class B misdemeanor, according to Reason.

Wheeler told Reason that massage therapy is not even included in the curriculum for veterinary school. "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," she said.

Attempting to salvage her certification and training, Wheeler asked the board if they would consider changing the rules. The board's attorney Keith Hodges told her it would make no difference, because the definition of veterinary medicine is defined by state law. He also told her when she inquired about doing the work without receiving compensation that she was not allowed to do the work for free because it would not adequately protect the public. "Arguably, compensation shouldn't matter," Hodges said, explaining that the purpose of the law is "to protect the public from being misled by incompetent, unscrupulous and unauthorized practitioners."

Interestingly, though Tennessee requires a licensed veterinarian to give massage therapy to animals, that same consideration is not given to humans. Massage therapists do not have to be licensed doctors in any state in order to give massages to their clients.

Wheeler also discovered that while she is not allowed to perform massage therapy on horses, any resident of Tennessee is legally allowed to artificially inseminate a horse or even perform a castration.

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

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