Keeping Your Horse Safe From Healers

Appears it might be circle-the-wagons time again for a certain group of people (who shall remain nameless) who spend their time and talents helping horses feel better in their bodies and providing valuable information for horse owners who choose a broad approach to managing the health and welfare of their animals.

Seems like one of our local veterinarians is once again on a mission to make the world safe from bodyworkers, chiropractors and the like who don’t also happen to have “DVM” as one of their credentials. These periodic witch hunts are now possible in most states, where the various veterinary boards have put in place ludicrously broad regulations that leave room for interpretations that would make it illegal for a professional even to touch a client’s horse.

For example, in Arizona, “a person shall be regarded as practicing veterinary medicine” if he does the following:

•    Perform any operation or manipulation on or apply any apparatus or appliance to any animal.

•    Give an instruction or demonstration for the cure, amelioration, correction or reduction or modification of any animal condition, disease, deformity, defect, wound or injury.

touchneckSo, what if I, as a paid trainer, put a martingale or a therapeutic saddle pad on a horse I’m riding? The statute doesn’t define what constitutes an apparatus, so is that illegal? What if I were to show one of my students how to bandage a wound on her horse? That’s clearly meant to cure or ameliorate a wound or injury, so illegal, right? What about the client I teach who is learning to ride in a way that is helping her horse remodel a neck misalignment he has had since he was a foal? That’s meant to correct or reduce a deformity, so it could fall within the activities considered “practicing veterinary medicine.”

Look out folks! By the strictest reading of this ridiculous statute, I appear to have embarked on a life of crime. (I think I’m in pretty good company, though. Farriers, equine dentists, rehabbers, bodyworkers, trainers – quite a group.)

What a relief for the poor, stupid horse owners of Arizona that there are licensed professionals out there looking out for them by limiting their ability to choose how they care for their horses. The vet who is reportedly leading the charge this time seems to be well known for this kind of activity. I was warned about her when I first moved back to Arizona, told that she had been known to recommend her clients have a chiropractor or massage therapist work on their horses, then turn around and report the practitioner to the vet board. Nice, huh?

I once had the dubious pleasure of hearing this person expound at length on the benevolence of the state vet board, which according to her seeks only to protect horse owners and horses. No, of course they aren’t serving the fiscal wants and needs of their members, the veterinarians. They are there but to provide a vital public service. Bollocks!

I’m a bit of a contrarian by nature, and was raised to question authority – not defy it, but definitely not to accept something as fact just because the person saying it wears a uniform or has some credential that may or may not be relevant to the situation. So don’t tell me what I can and can’t do for the welfare of my horse. And don’t limit my choices of care to only what vets in traditional practice know and do. They know what they know, but they aren’t and cannot be experts in everything. And there simply aren’t enough of them who are good at these alternative modalities to go around.

I applaud all those veterinarians who have become attracted to study and apply one or more of the fascinating healing modalities that so adeptly complement traditional veterinary knowledge and practice. Moving beyond their vet-school training, these open-minded people seek to broaden their knowledge, deepen their understanding of the holistic nature of healing and provide their clients with valuable options for the wellness and treatment of their precious animals.

The first equine chiropractor I ever met was a veterinarian, and she was fabulous. She didn’t really fit the traditional model, though, with a practice focused on acupuncture and chiropractic way before these had really hit the mainstream. She was, I believe, both a veterinarian and a healer – a rare and precious thing, especially 20 years ago.

What I have seen too much of in the past decade, though, have been veterinarians who seemed to me to take up the non-traditional modalities grudgingly and only with an eye on the profit margin. They don’t really “believe in” the therapy, but their clients are requesting it and they don’t want to lose dollars to someone else. So, with minimal training, a shallow understanding of the modality and little belief in its efficacy, they are not providing even adequate therapeutic benefit.

What these people fail to understand is that horse owners like me really, really want to know their animals are being cared for by a professional they can really trust, someone who is mature and secure enough to admit he doesn’t know everything, intellectually curious and open-minded enough to explore and learn new things, and knowledgeable enough to refer out to other practitioners who are skilled at those things the vet is neither trained to do nor cares to learn.

This whole protectionist bent among vets is both small-minded and financially unsound. Let’s face it, if my vet can’t help my horse but can hook me up with someone who can, the vet is a hero! And, I’ll tell all my horse-owning friends that, over and over for years to come. That more than makes up for whatever dollars I spend with the other practitioner. The vet who pretends to know all while failing to help my horse will also be the topic of my conversations among horse people – to the detriment of his practice. Seems like a simple choice.

But still there are vets out there who refuse to face the modern reality that many of their clients are educated about and interested in a wide range of healing approaches they truly believe could benefit their horses. A person whose own body experiences relief from a chiropractic treatment or a therapeutic massage will logically expect the same might be true for a horse. And the vets who disrespect their clients’ knowledge and seek to limit their choices are, I believe, both morally wrong and ethically inappropriate. Not to mention, that whole “for the good of the horse” thing. To me, that is the only bottom line that counts.

If you’re curious about what the veterinarians have influenced your state government to regulate, search the web for your state veterinary board or state veterinary practices act. For a brief overview of all the states, check out this link.

Photoblogging: Beautiful Southern Arizona

I have been driving a lot lately, traveling to work with horses and people either at their homes or at various boarding facilities. Along the way, I get to see some of the gorgeous southern Arizona scenery. Of course, there’s the the beautiful desert – saguaro, prickly pear and ocotillo. But there are also mountains of all shapes and sizes, miles and miles of grasslands and, of course, those amazing blue skies. Every once in a while, I even take the time to stop and take a photo. Here are a few for you to share …


I don’t miss the cold weather, but the fall leaves on the cottonwoods in the Santa Cruz River Valley near Tubac remind me of the northeastern Colorado ranch where I grew up.


These bright wildflowers line the roads and sweep across the grasslands near Sonoita.


Prickly pear, cholla, creosote, grasses
and wildflowers form beautiful
roadside vignettes.





Fall Colors, Arizona Style

Fall in the grasslands

I’m fortunate to be able to work with many of my clients and their horses at their own homes. That means I get to do a bit of driving, much of which is on the outskirts of Tucson. But on Tuesdays, I get the scenic tour — Sonoita, Elgin and Rain Valley.

The 5,000-foot elevation and miles of rolling grasslands remind me of northeastern Colorado, where I grew up. This time of year, the wind wafts golden tufts and the afternoon sun paints the mountains pink and purple. What a lovely place to work!