When the American Veterinary Medical Association proposed eliminating the farrier exemption from the Model Veterinary Practice Act, the hoof-care industry’s response was resoundingly unfavorable.

Some AVMA officials seemed to be surprised by the intensity of the opposition. One senior official referred to it as a “panic,” while its media relations department issued clarifications when it became apparent that farriers, horse owners and even some equine vets were rather icy to the proposal.

“It became apparent very quickly from numerous comments received (mostly from the farrier community) that there was a significant misunderstanding as to why the exemption was proposed to be removed,” Michael San Filippo, the AVMA’s senior media relations specialist, told American Farriers Journal after the group withdrew it’s proposal to eliminate the exemption.

Perhaps there has been a misunderstanding, but not necessarily from farriers.

A campaign to regulate farriers in British Columbia underscores why their American colleagues balked at the move to remove the farrier exemption.

“If you follow the letter of the law, farriers actually can only work under the supervision of a vet,” explains Gerard Laverty, faculty farrier at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, British Columbia, and a representative of the Western Canadian Farrier’s Association (WCFA) that’s exploring regulation. “That hasn’t been how it has been followed in practice, but it could be brought into place if they decided to do that right now.”

The British Columbia Veterinarians Act’s definition of the practice of veterinary medicine is comparable to the AVMA’s definition. British Columbia defines it as “the art and science of veterinary medicine, dentistry and surgery, and includes, whether or not for consideration,

“(a) the diagnosis and treatment of animals for the prevention, alleviation or correction of disease, injury, pain, defect, disorder, or other similar condition,

“(b) the provision of a service prescribed by regulation of the Lieutenant Governor in Council, and

“(c) the provision of advice in respect of a matter referred to in paragraph (a) or (b).”

John Brocklebank, a veterinarian and deputy registrar of the College of Veterinarians of British Columbia, is very specific about what a farrier can and cannot do in the western Canadian province.

“A Ferrier [sic] may trim cow and horse feet; however, he or she is not permitted to provide health assessment, render diagnosis, prescribe treatment including corrective therapy, or assess the efficacy of treatment,” he wrote in 2012.

As is the case with most veterinary-related legislation, animal and human welfare are the prime reasons for its ratification.

“Many persons in BC, who are not veterinarians, profess to have special skill, knowledge or qualifications in the area of veterinary medicine,” Brocklebank wrote. “The unauthorized practice [sic] of veterinary medicine poses a risk to the public and its animals. The public interest requires that there be a means to not only regulate who is qualified to offer but also regulate the quality of the services offered.”

Yet, the public argues that they cannot access the health care they want for their animals. The B.C. Animal Owners Association is petitioning the provisional government to re-write the legislation to allow non-veterinarians to provide massage therapy, chiropractic work, dentistry, farriery and other services.

“These services are available under the radar and underground, giving rise to other significant concerns related to standards of education and scope of practice and disciplinary review,” according to the organization. “British Columbia incorporated complementary health care for people in the 1980s and 1990s. We now freely access this health care for our families, and we simply want these same options to be available for our animals and pets. We are asking our leaders and legislators to provide a legal and respectable place for complementary animal health care practitioners in B.C. law.”

When the AVMA’s proposal to eliminate the farrier exemption was introduced, these same concerns were voiced not only by farriers, but also horse owners and some equine veterinarians. The working group’s intention might not have been “an attempt to ban farriers from working independently or require a veterinarian to be involved in shoeing a horse.” Yet, without a farrier exemption that’s exactly how the law is interpreted by the deputy registrar of the College of Veterinarians of British Columbia.

Why would it be interpreted any differently in the U.S.?