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Legislator 'drowns' in floating horse teeth

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WILLMAR -- The issue of who should be qualified to "float horse teeth" is drowning at least one legislator in three years' worth of reports, studies, committee meetings and proposed legislation.

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Rep. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, said he hopes the issue can finally be resolved during this year's legislative session. "I'm tired of it," he said, with a light-hearted chuckle.

Floating horse teeth involves smoothing down the teeth of horses with a file. It's a necessary routine because horse teeth grow perpetually and the sharp points can cut a horse's tongue and mouth. It can be painful and difficult for horses to eat if their teeth are not routinely filed.

The Minnesota Board of Veterinary Medicine has taken the position that only veterinarians should be allowed to do the procedure. In 2004 they sent a Hutchinson man, Chris Johnson, a letter ordering him to stop his family-learned business of floating horse teeth.

The veterinary board had grandfathered in Johnson's father, but objected to the son doing the practice without receiving proper training, said Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel.

Dille, a veterinarian who has floated his own share of horse teeth, said it is "not appropriate" for an individual to float horse teeth "without any training."

The controversy sparked a lawsuit and proposed legislation.

Koenen said he doesn't think people who float horse teeth need to be veterinarians. With a limited number of large-animal vets practicing now, he said laypeople can do the job at a lower cost to horse owners.

"Veterinarians totally disagree with me," he said, acknowledging that Dille is one of them.

Koenen compared laypeople who float horse teeth to farriers who trim horses' hooves.

"It's a simple, straightforward procedure," said Koenen, who thinks Minnesotans should be allowed to carry on a business of floating horse teeth without having to go to vet school.

Veterinarians, however, argue that it's a practice that requires training.

"That sets up that battle," said Koenen. "It just can't get settled"

In an interview Thursday, Dille said it doesn't make sense to give all 5 million Minnesotans the right to do a veterinary procedure that he said requires training that veterinarians receive in school.

In 2005 Koenen helped author legislation to allow non-veterinarians to perform the non-invasive service.

Koenen's bill was later amended to included options for a separate license for equine dentistry, with training required.

The issue of filing horse teeth opened the floodgates to discuss other animal husbandry issues.

In 2007, Koenen helped author a bill that would allow non-veterinarians to provide a variety of activities, such as animal massage, physical therapy, chiropractic care, artificial insemination and floating horse teeth.

Without reaching a resolution, legislators then agreed last year to work with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to develop a study group to examine those different animal husbandry issues and provide a set of recommendations, Dille said.

Dille said the report recommends that people who float horse teeth would not have to be veterinarians but that training would be required. He said the proposal asks the University of Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine to establish a training program.

The report also recommends that people who want to practice chiropractic care on animals must be either a veterinarian or a licensed chiropractor.

Training would be required for people who want to perform physical therapy with animals.

Regarding artificial insemination, only veterinarians would be allowed to do it when surgery is involved, but in all other cases a layperson could provide the service.

Dille said he's drafting legislation that would "pretty much" incorporate the committee's recommendations.

Koenen said although it "goes against my grain a little bit," he would likely support a compromise bill that includes some or all of the committee's recommendations.

"If it's a true compromise, nobody will be happy," he said.

Meanwhile, the Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit against the Minnesota Board of Veterinary Medicine in 2006 in support of laypeople floating horse teeth. A hearing was held last month but a ruling has not been announced, Dille said.

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Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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