Horse Teeth Floaters’ Constitutional Lawsuit Will Proceed

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · November 18, 2008

Austin, Texas—The Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (Board) will no longer be able to evade judicial review of its decision to send cease-and-desist letters to horse teeth floaters throughout the state.  In February of 2007, the Board overturned ninety-seven years of Board precedent and decided that only licensed veterinarians may float horses’ teeth in Texas.  The Board has admitted that this radical change in policy was not supported by any studies or evidence of harm to horses, and it was done with the full knowledge that there are nowhere near enough veterinarians in Texas to take care of the dental needs of the state’s one million horses.

Unlike human teeth, horses’ teeth grow throughout their lives.  This causes sharp points to develop along their molars that must be filed down (or “floated”) periodically, which levels the teeth and helps ensure that the horse can eat properly.  Historically, this practice has been provided by non-veterinarian specialists called “floaters,” just as horses’ hooves are taken care of by non-veterinarian farriers.

The Board’s heedless and unscientific campaign to end this time honored practice, which has been specifically acknowledged and authorized in other horse-owning states like Florida and Maryland, threatens to destroy the livelihoods of several hundred floaters in Texas and will imperil the well-being of horses throughout the state, who will no longer have access to competent practitioners.  Thus, individuals like Carl Mitz, who specializes in miniature horses and is known throughout the nation as the “Mini King,” will be forced to move out of Texas and work in other states that allow floaters to practice their trade.  Texas horse owners will be left to rely on the services of a small number of large animal veterinarians who cannot possibly meet demand for the service.

“I’m faced with the prospect of uprooting my family and moving and starting all over again in these sorry economic times,” said Mitz.

The court of appeals’ decision rebuffs a year-long effort by the Board to avoid answering for its conduct in court and to force the individuals it has been persecuting into an administrative process controlled by the Board.

“The Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners has steadfastly refused to defend its decision to outlaw horse teeth floating by non-veterinarians in court because it realizes how arbitrary and unreasonable that decision was,” said Clark Neily, attorney for the defendants.  “These honest, hardworking Texans will finally have their day in court.”

The court of appeals ruled that “in light of the continuing threat of civil and criminal liability against the practitioners and the direct effect the Act has on their ongoing business enterprise, the practitioners have established that they would suffer hardship if judicial review was withheld.”  The court of appeals then ordered the trial court to hold proceedings on the legal question of whether the Board can require the defendants to hold a veterinary license in order to continue practicing their chosen occupation.

“This is a little piece of victory in a big fight,” said Mitz.  “But we’re happy to finally have our case heard.”

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