Woman could face 20 years in prison for massaging horses without a license

Massage a horse, go to jail.

That’s the absurd fate Karen Hough could face if she wants to continue her business in Nebraska. A certified instructor, Karen has been massaging horses for years. Massaging a horse is believed to deliver many health benefits, including relieving tension, improving circulation, and alleviating muscle fatigue.

Earlier this year, she applied for a license in equine massage but was told only veterinarians can become licensed. A 2007 memo from Nebraska’s Board of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery asserted that “no health professional other than licensed veterinarians and licensed veterinary technicians may perform services/therapies on animals.” This means Karen would need to spend thousands of dollars and seven years of her life just to acquire a government permission slip to do what she’s been doing for years.

A few weeks later, she received a letter from Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services ordering her to “cease and desist” from the “unlicensed practice of veterinary medicine.” In Nebraska, continuing to operate a business without a license after getting a cease and desist letter is a Class III felony. So Karen could face up to 20 years in prison and pay a $25,000 fine. By comparison, that’s the same penalty for manslaughter in the Cornhusker State.

What’s worse, under Nebraska state law, she can’t even give out advice on how to massage horses: “They told me I couldn’t give massages for money; I couldn’t do it for free and I couldn’t even tell friends how to do it. That last one really got to me. To me, that is restricting my free speech.” Of course, by using occupational licensing, the board can restrict who gets to massage horses, rubbing out the competition.

Fortunately for Karen, State Sen. Tyson Larson has proposed a bill that would instead require 100 hours of training to obtain a license in equine massage. People can climb on and ride a horse without any training and that’s certainly more stressful to a horse than getting a massage. While 100 hours still seems a bit excessive, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Hopefully more legislators will join Sen. Larson and say “neigh” to this cartel.

Back in 2009, the Institute for Justice successfully defended Mercedes Clemens’ right to massage horses in Maryland. Maryland’s Board of Chiropractic Examiners had forced Clemens to stop massaging her equestrian clients. But in a win for economic liberty (and good old-fashioned horse sense) the Board’s actions were ruled illegal. Now Clemens can earn an honest living free from burdensome regulation.

–Nick Sibilla

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