Monday, October 20, 2008
Equine Massage Therapists Under Fire in Maryland
Like equine dentists, equine massage therapists are facing legal opposition to their practice in certain states. Here's what's currently happening in Maryland.
Does it make sense to limit the practice of equine massage to licensed veterinarians?
Today, much like horse trainers, nearly anyone can call themselves an equine massage therapist and start charging for their services. Therefore, the experience and training of equine massage therapists differs widely. As a result, horse owners have few resources other than word of mouth to help them distinguish among the available equine massage therapists. Some equine massage therapists who have so little training and experience that they may actually do more harm than good. Others, such as Ilene Nessenson of Holistic Horse Bodyworks, are thoughtful practitioners with extensive training who provide real benefits for their equine patients.
In contrast, while equine veterinarians have extensive training and experience with the equine body and its functions, they generally have little or no training in equine massage unless they seek out that training. Therefore, the mere fact that someone is a licensed equine veterinarian does not mean that they have the qualifications and experience to be an equine massage therapist.
State-mandated licensing of equine massage would be expensive and burdensome for states to implement. Each state would have its own statutes, resulting in a confusing patchwork quilt of regulations for massage therapists who wanted to practice more than one state. Licensing enforcement would likely be sporadic and somewhat arbitrary. Because most customers would probably only check to see if the practitioner was licensed after there was already a problem, licensing requirements would be not be a very effective means of preventing harm to the horses. And, if we regulate equine massage, shouldn't other equine service providers be regulated, such as farriers? Surely, farriers perform a function that is at least as important as massage, with even more potential for lasting damage to the horse...
So if regulation is impractical, shouldn't consumers do their own homework before hiring an equine massage therapist. Short answer: Yes. Long answer: While we could hope that consumers would take it upon themselves to research the equine massage therapist's qualifications and experience before they hire them, the reality is that it won't happen most of the time. Horse owners are born optimists - they will hire anyone who promises to help their horses perform better. Doesn't the horse owner who hires a massage therapist without doing their homework get what they deserve? Perhaps they do, when the only consequences are financial. But what if the horse suffers? He didn't choose the massage therapist...
In short, there are no easy answers. I'll look forward to seeing what my readers think!