The freedom of speech is a cherished Constitutional protection, framed in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. It is a right many Americans take for granted and exercise on a daily basis as an integral part of their personal and professional lives. Teaching is one of many forms of free speech and falls under the First Amendments protections for the right to speech within their occupation. But the State of Minnesota disagrees and Leda Mox, a certified equine massage specialist, now faces the prospect of having to pay exorbitant fees unless her speech is approved by a government agency.
Leda loves horses, so much so that she has turned her passion into a business teaching others how to care for them through the practice of equine massage. Horses, much like any human, can benefit from massage by alleviating muscle pain, training for athletic events, or just to ease tension and relax. Leda is an expert in the subject and has a bachelor’s degree in equine science as well as being certified in equine massage since 1997, when she skipped her high school graduation to attend one of the only certification programs in the country at the time.
The Office of Higher Education doesn’t care about Leda’s credentials or her long history of success in the field. They are demanding Leda complete a thirty-page application, pay exorbitant fees up front, and then annually to maintain her license, and furnish the state with a great deal of information – most of which is completely inapplicable to her small business.
Leda, who has partnered with the Institute for Justice, has now filed a lawsuit against the state claiming a violation of her First Amendment rights and arguing the state has no right to demand their approval to freely speak on a subject which she is clearly an expert in.
The Institute for Justice has worked on several cases involving the protection of the First Amendment in occupational speech. Previously, IJ has successfully protected a Mississippi startup’s First Amendment right to create informal maps in the face of a regulatory board’s failed bid to shut the company down for supposedly practicing “land surveying” without a license. In California, IJ successfully defended a horseshoeing teacher’s right to talk about horseshoeing to willing students and is now defending the right of two end-of-life doulas to talk about home funerals with willing clients. IJ has also secured court victories all over the country—from the District of Columbia to Charleston to Savannah—for tour guides who want to tell stories without needing the government’s permission. The government cannot prevent Leda from teaching a useful skill to those who want to learn it.
Ever since she was a little girl, Leda Mox loved horses. Leda grew up on a farm, rode horses competitively, and even majored in equine science. It seemed natural that Leda would want to make a living working with horses. She eventually paired her love of horses with her entrepreneurial spirit and started a thriving equine massage clinic in Becker, Minnesota. Now, Minnesota bureaucrats are saying she can’t teach others about equine massage—a subject in which she’s an expert—without approval from a government agency—an agency that knows nothing about horses or how to massage them. Leda is now teaming up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to vindicate her First Amendment rights, and the rights of others like her.
Equine Massage Therapy – A Tried and True Way to Care for Horses
“Equine massage” might sound unusual, but animal massage, in one form or another, has existed as long as animals have been domesticated. By the mid-1980’s, physical therapist Jack Meagher successfully treated horses using massage techniques and became so well known that he was working as a massage therapist for horses on the US Olympic Equestrian team. Animals get massaged for many of the same reasons that humans do: to alleviate muscle pain, to prepare for or recuperate following athletic events, or to simply ease tension and relax. Due to their unique build and musculature, horses are thought to particularly benefit from massage. They are athletic and extremely muscular. Skeletal muscle makes up approximately 45 to 55 percent of a horse’s mass, compared to 30-40 percent for a healthy human.
Equine massage has been shown to help with many common issues affecting horses including bucking, head tossing, attitude changes, and difficulty with movements. Horses are naturally skittish, and regular human contact through massage is thought to calm them down and improve their temperament, making them safer to ride. Therapists must be familiar with horse behavior, safe handling of horses, and horse anatomy – both muscular and skeletal.
Equine massage therapists are not veterinarians—but will work closely with them to rehabilitate injured horses and care for aging horses. Through the use of equine massage, horses can go from the auction block to winning races and remain active throughout their lives.
Leda Mox Combines Her Love of Horses and Her Entrepreneurial Spirit Into a Successful Business
Leda Mox is a life-long Minnesota resident who grew up on a small hobby farm. She has a bachelor’s degree in equine science and has been certified in equine massage since 1997, when she skipped her high school graduation to attend one of the only certification programs in the country at the time. In college, she competed in several events through the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association and spent a great deal of time around performance horses.
Leda’s experience led her to equine massage, and massage allowed her to form a stronger bond with her horses. People started to notice a difference in Leda’s horses and would ask her to show them her techniques. In time, Leda developed her curriculum, designed to prepare other equine massage therapists to work as a team with the owner, veterinarian, farrier, and chiropractor to make a positive impact for each individual horse.
Through her business, Armstrong Equine Massage, Leda has been certifying others who want to do what she does – make a living providing this care to horses. She also provides classes for horse owners just looking to pamper their pet. Several horse trainers have taken Leda’s classes in an effort to better understand and care for their animals. In addition, Leda performs equine massage to other horse owners and teaches horseback riding classes.
Leda’s classes are held on her sprawling farm in Becker, Minnesota, surrounded on all sides by acres of farmland and horseback riding trails. She has a large stable barn, currently home to thirteen horses. She often leases other horses for her lessons, so that each student gets adequate time to practice. Armstrong Equine Massage is also very active in the community, holding free classes for the local 4-H. In addition to teaching children how to show horses, Leda will hold free rodeo events, cattle sorting classes, and goat tying classes for the 4-H kids.
Each person who passes Leda’s program is required to pass a written exam and do certified case studies. Students must work on at least ten horses and do at least two massages each. Therefore, over the course of her school’s history, Leda’s over 400 graduates have helped over 4000 horses!
But it is the act of teaching horse massage to other aspiring professionals that has gotten Leda in trouble. The Minnesota Office of Higher Education recently came calling to tell Leda that she could massage horses all day, but that she could not conduct her classes – the same classes she’s been conducting for years – without a license.
Minnesota’s Licensing Scheme Places Burdensome and Costly Regulations on the Right to Speak
The Minnesota Private and Out of State Public Post Secondary Education Act attempts to regulate “private career schools,” like Leda’s, that teach real-world occupational skills to students willing and eager to learn them. In order to continue teaching a skill she’s been teaching for over ten years, Leda is required to complete a thirty-page application, pay exorbitant fees up front, and then annually to maintain her license, and furnish the state with a great deal of information – most of which is completely inapplicable to her small business. Even if Leda does go through the process of providing all the information required, there’s still one last hurdle. The state’s office of higher education will need to review Leda’s curriculum to be sure that it adequately teaches the subject of equine massage.
Leda is the expert, however, and she has spent years designing her classes and certification programs based on her experience working hands-on with horses. Leda is much more qualified than the bureaucrats at the Office of Higher Education to decide what’s best for her students and their horses. Leaving Leda’s business’s future in the hands of unqualified government officials hurts horse owners, aspiring professionals, and the horses themselves.
Of course, if Leda was teaching aspiring professionals how to become models or actors, she’d be in the clear. That is because the act creates a carve out for those types of schools and many others from the burdensome and costly licensing requirements that it places on “private career schools” like Leda’s. But the government can’t say that certain subjects can be taught freely while others require their permission.
Licensing schemes like this one not only burden the right to free speech but place unnecessary obstacles in the way of entrepreneurs like Leda. Leda wants to teach equine massage to clients who want to make an honest living. She should be able to do so.
Bucking the System – Fighting Back to Protect Free Speech Rights
Leda is fighting back to protect her right to speak – and the rights of those like her. She has joined with the Institute for Justice – a public interest law firm – to file a civil rights challenge in federal court. Leda is asking the courts to hold that her equine massage training and certification classes are exempt from Minnesota’s burdensome and costly requirements, and that Minnesota’s licensing scheme, in singling out certain types of speech, violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
The First Amendment protects Americans’ right to speech within their occupation. Teaching is speech, and burdensome restrictions on speech – particularly those that regulate speech based on their subject matter, are unconstitutional. Previously, IJ has successfully protected a Mississippi startup’s First Amendment right to create informal maps in the face of a regulatory board’s failed bid to shut the company down for supposedly practicing “land surveying” without a license. In California, IJ successfully defended a horseshoeing teacher’s right to talk about horseshoeing to willing students and is now defending the right of two end-of-life doulas to talk about home funerals with willing clients. IJ has also secured court victories all over the country—from the District of Columbia to Charleston to Savannah—for tour guides who want to tell stories without needing the government’s permission. The government cannot prevent Leda from teaching a useful skill – equine massage – to those who want to learn it.
 https://premierperformance.uk/blog/muscle-development-in-horses/#:~:text=Your%20horse’s%20body%20contains%20a,%2C%20glycogen%2C%20vitamins%20and%20minerals; https://themetabolic-institute.com/what-is-a-healthy-body-composition/
 Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School, Inc. v. Kirchmeyer, 961 F.3d 1062 (9th Cir. 2020); Billups v. City of Charleston, 961 F.3d 673 (4th Cir. 2020)