Most farriers and equine veterinarians work well together in their endeavor to provide quality hoof care.

They understand and respect the boundaries that have been agreed upon. The farrier’s domain is the hoof capsule. Vets lay claim to the rest. Of course, this is a gross oversimplification of the description. Minor skirmishes have erupted along the way over the expanse of gray area. Both sides have unintentionally crossed the line from time to time. By and large, though, the welfare of the horse prevailed.

“We need to work together for the betterment of the horse,” both sides have proclaimed time and time again. Yet, that unifying focus is rather blurry today after the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) introduced its proposed Model Veterinary Practice Act (MVPA).

A number of changes have been recommended for the current 37-page MVPA. Among the most significant to the farrier industry is the elimination of the farrier exemption from MVPA that can be found on page 17 in Section 6, subsection 8.

What does that mean? Apparently, the gray area has expanded.

Until now it’s been well agreed upon that “any person lawfully engaged in the art or profession of farriery” is exempted from portions of the definition of the practice of veterinary medicine.

The proposal created a firestorm within the farrier community and members from all corners of the horse industry expressing their dismay with the proposed change. 

“This is a very damaging proposition,” says Sara Jo Slaughter, a Columbia, Tenn., horse trainer. “There are so many horses that don’t see a vet because of the cost. Adding hoof care to a vet’s list will only negate that being addressed, as well. Aren’t vets busy enough? If a vet doesn't specialize in hoof care then it shouldn’t be part of their practice. There are a lot of good farriers that this will ruin, and it will definitely hurt the horse industry.”

The AVMA will have the horse industry believe that it’s misinterpreting its move.

“The proposed removal of ‘farriery’ from the exemption section of the MVPA is in no way an attempt to ban farriers from working independently or require a veterinarian to be involved in shoeing a horse,” Michael San Filippo, the AVMA’s senior media relations specialist, wrote in an email to American Farriers Journal and others. “Rather, it is an acknowledgment that farriery exists well outside of the definition of veterinary medicine and does not need to be included in the MVPA.”

Does it exist well outside of the definition, though? All one has to do is take a cursory glance at the AVMA’s own definition. Section 2(16) defines the practice of veterinary medicine as:

“a. To diagnose, prognose, treat, correct, change, alleviate, or prevent animal disease, illness, pain, deformity, defect, injury, or other physical, dental, or mental conditions by any method or mode; including the:

i. performance of any medical or surgical procedure, or

ii. prescription, dispensing, administration, or application of any drug, medicine, biologic, apparatus, anesthetic, or other therapeutic or diagnostic substance, or

iii. use of any complementary, alternative, and integrative therapies, or

iv. use of any procedure for reproductive management, including but not limited to the diagnosis or treatment of pregnancy, fertility, sterility, or infertility, or

v. determination of the health, fitness, or soundness of an animal, or

vi. rendering of advice or recommendation by any means including telephonic and other electronic communications with regard to any of the above.

b. To represent, directly or indirectly, publicly or privately, an ability and willingness to do an act described in subsection 16(a).

c. To use any title, words, abbreviation, or letters in a manner or under circumstances that induce the belief that the person using them is qualified to do any act described in subsection 16(a).”

There are a number of issues that farriers encounter each day that would easily fit within those parameters — thrush, white line disease, hoof cracks, white line separation, hoof flares. Doesn’t the application of shoes and pads fit in Section 2, subsection 1, ii? Does a farrier need a veterinary degree to determine that a horse is not sound when a keen eye notices it’s slightly compensating for an injury while longing?

The proposed MVPA also prohibits the use of “any title, words, abbreviation, or letters in a manner or under circumstances that induce the belief that the person using them is qualified to do any act described in subsection 16(a).”

Does that include the use of CF, CJF, APF, APF-I?

In an attempt to answer those questions, San Filippo wrote to AFJ in an email that those issues would have to be determined by the government.

“My understanding is that because farriery exists so far outside of veterinary medicine and should not be included in a state’s [VPA],” he wrote, “that those concerns should, therefore, be addressed elsewhere in state law/regulation.”

San Filippo has not responded to requests for the name of the committee and the members tasked with proposing changes to the MVPA. Nor has he responded to questions about why commentary wasn’t added to the proposed MVPA explaining the elimination of the farrier exemption. In the absence transparency and explanation, intention can only be speculated upon. And there's plenty of that. 

A very good case can be made that this is a power grab. The AVMA wants to control farriery. San Filippo couldn’t be clearer, “farriery exists so far outside of veterinary medicine and should not be included in a state’s [VPA].”

A good indication of the AVMA’s motive can be found in the recommended addition to the MVPA’s preamble, emphasized in bold italics. 

“This statute is enacted as an exercise of the powers of the State to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public and animals by ensuring the delivery of competent veterinary medical care. It is hereby declared that the practice of veterinary medicine is a privilege conferred by legislative grant to persons possessed of the personal and professional qualifications specified in this Act. It is further declared that the intent of this legislation is to regulate the Profession and will result in displacing competition by restricting licensure to practice the Profession; as such practice is defined and interpreted by the Board, to individuals determined by the Board to be qualified under this Act. It is declared that any such restriction on competition is outweighed by the broader interest in protection of the public health, safety, and welfare. It is understood that the regulatory structure calls for Licensees and public members to serve on the Board and this legislation recognizes the need for professional expertise provided by practitioners serving the public interest.

Additionally, its commentary to the preamble doubles down on the issue of licensing.

“The preamble defines the purpose of the veterinary practice act. It emphasizes that the right to practice veterinary medicine is a privilege granted by state law and is thus subject to regulation in order to protect health, safety, and welfare of the public and animals.”

Why the emphasis on licensing? The AVMA has long stated the need “to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public and animals by ensuring the delivery of competent veterinary medical care.” Yet, farriery poses no danger in this regard. There has been no significant public outcry over the quality of farriery. So what do those in power do to tilt the balance further in their favor? Change the rules by regulating farriery. Regulation through licensing makes it more difficult for anyone — other than licensed veterinarians — to shoe horses.

As Slaughter points out, there are arguments that vets don’t want to shoe horses. They won’t necessarily have to.

It’s not difficult to envision that licensing would drive farriers out of the trade and into other professions. Those who remain could be licensed — much like a vet tech — to perform farriery under the supervision or employ of a vet. Fewer farriers create greater demand, which in turn increases prices (as does licensing fees).

It also means the potential is greater that more horses go longer between hoof-care visits. That could result in more lameness issues.

Meanwhile, vets in the field who have great working relationships with farriers are caught in the middle because of bureaucrats and their suspect motives.

“I value my farriers’ opinions,” Grace Owen, an Edmond, Okla., vet wrote on Facebook. “I also have absolutely no desire to shoe. It should always be teamwork between the two industries. That is what is best for the horse.”

In the end, the horse will be the real victim if the AVMA’s recommendations are accepted. The AVMA isn’t considering the horse, though. It’s more concerned with “displacing competition” so it can line its own pockets.

The AVMA is accepting comments from its members and the public. They vow to carefully consider the points and recommendations that are made until the Sunday, March 25, 2018, deadline.