Massaging horses to sooth tight muscles and relieve stress is a passion with Mercedes Clemens who is certified to massage humans, but has had to shut down her equine massage practice in a Washington suburb after state officials told her that state law allows only veterinarians to perform such services.
Now she's suing two state agencies, saying regulators are unfairly barring registered massage therapists who want to practice on animals.
Massage for animals is a growing field throughout the United States and internationally. A California-based massage school, says when it began operating about 15 years ago, a couple hundred people took its horse massage therapy courses. Now, almost 900 sign up each year. It is estimate that there are around 50 schools across the country teaching animal massage.
The National Board of Certification for Animal Acupressure and Massage plans to start an online exam next month to create credential standards. Among other things, it will test massage techniques, anatomy, ethics and animal behavior.
Animal massage regulations vary from state to state, with some allowing only veterinarians to practice. Clemens' case is being closely watched by those in the animal massage industry, who say business has grown steadily along with interest in other alternative treatments and pampering for pets.
"This isn't just a career for me, it's my passion," Clemens said. "If I was independently wealthy and I didn't need an income, I would do this for nothing. That's how much I love it."
In a March letter to Clemens, the Maryland Board of Chiropractic Examiners told her state law is very specific in barring massage therapists from practicing on animals.
The chiropractic board also included a note from Maryland's state veterinary board reminding chiropractors and massage therapists of the restrictions.
Clemens says she's never made medical claims or tried to be a substitute veterinarian. Nevertheless, she was so concerned about facing prosecution or losing her human massage license that she pulled advertisements about her horse work and ended her equine practice.
Clemens, who also massages humans, says working on horses is much different.
"They can be very dangerous animals if you don't know what you're doing," she said. "It's very unlikely a person on a massage table is going to kick me."
She isn't asking for damages or compensation in her lawsuit. She just wants the right to practice on animals. She says she is being unfairly targeted and that the state allows other animal massage therapists to practice. The Institute for Justice, an Arlington, Va.-based libertarian public interest law firm, has taken up her case.
An attorney for the state chiropractic board said the agency is asking for the court to dismiss the case, citing Montgomery County as an improper venue because the order was issued from Baltimore. The state veterinary board also wants [no-glossary]out of the lawsuit, claiming it never ruled specifically on Clemens' practice. Veterinary board President Chris H. Runde says his agency doesn't regulate horse massage by non-veterinarians if the aim is solely for "helping the animal relax or generally feel better."
"If it was just me it wouldn't really be worth all of this," she said. "But this is a much bigger constitutional issue."
About the author
As an animal lover since childhood, Flossie was delighted when Mark, the CEO and developer of EquiMed asked her to join his team of contributors.
She enrolled in My Horse University at Michigan State and completed a number of courses in everything related to horse health, nutrition, diseases and conditions, medications, hoof and dental care, barn safety, and first aid.
Staying up-to-date on the latest developments in horse care and equine health is now a habit, and she enjoys sharing a wealth of information with horse owners everywhere..