Lori learning horse massage at Equine Kneads, LLC in New Jersey. Photo Courtesy of Equine Kneads, LLC.

Current Status of Lawsuit: Filed June 25, 2019.

Media Coverage

Lori Smith’s Story

Lori Smith loves horses and loves caring for them. Since being exposed to horses when she was young, she realized that she loved being around them. Like many horse lovers, she finds the majestic animals to have a calming effect on her soul.

As she grew up, Lori sought jobs that included work with horses. She also dreamed of being a professional massage therapist for humans but raising children and other financial concerns kept her from pursuing that dream. Later in life, Lori found an opportunity to combine these two passions and overcome her previous obstacles. She took a leap, enrolled in an equine sports massage therapy course, and became a Certified Equine Sports Massage Therapist.

Eager to get started with her new vocation, Lori set up a website to advertise her services as “Five Feather Equine Massage.” She made it clear that she is not a veterinarian and that she would never diagnose or medically treat a horse. Before she could get her business off the ground, however, New York State told her she needed to stop or risk facing civil or criminal penalties.

Lori was ordered by the state of New York to cease and desist her horse massage therapy business, “Five Feathers Equine Massage.”Photo Courtesy of Equine Kneads, LLC.

The Law

According to the State, because Lori is neither a licensed veterinarian nor a licensed human massage therapist, she may not perform equine massage. Only licensed veterinarians (or a narrow group of exempt persons) may engage in “diagnosing, treating, operating, or prescribing for any animal disease, pain, injury, deformity or dental or physical condition.” Further, the term “massage” or “massage therapy” can only be used by persons licensed or authorized under the law to practice human massage.

The State reads two laws together to conclude that the only persons in New York who may massage animals are veterinarians or veterinary technicians under the supervision of a veterinarian. A typical licensed veterinarian, however, takes eight years of post-high school coursework, including four years a veterinary school that does not offer equine massage instruction.

The Case

Not being a licensed veterinarian and faced with the threat of criminal charges, Lori did not take on any appointments and took down her website. To this day, she has not engaged further in her desired vocation. At no point, however, has Lori claimed to be a New York-licensed veterinarian, as she knows that animal massage is not a replacement for veterinary care.

Animal massage is separate and distinct from veterinary medicine. While horses, and other animals like cats and dogs, benefit from massage in a variety of ways, equine massage therapy does not involve the diagnosis and treatment of physical conditions or ailments that a veterinarian performs. Rather, equine massage more generally aids a horse’s natural body functions by helping increase endorphins, improve blood circulation, and relax muscles. Equine massage therapy is more like the routine and regular activities of anyone caring for horses.

New York’s application of the law produces absurd, arbitrary, and inconsistent results. According to New York, any farmers engaging in standard animal husbandry practices and pet owners providing routine care to their animals practice veterinary medicine illegally. The State unfairly singled out Lori for enforcement, depriving her of her rights as a New York and United States citizen. As a result, the Government Justice Center has stepped to help Lori assert her rights, filing a lawsuit against the state in the Supreme Court for Albany County.

“New York State is arbitrarily putting an unnecessary burden on an individual trying to exercise her right to earn a living and harmlessly pursue her passion” said Cam Macdonald, executive director of GJC. “Requiring eight or more years of unrelated schooling for equine massage therapy not only frustrates Lori from exercising her rights, but it also needlessly over-regulates the routine care of beloved animals and pets.”

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Filed Complaint