Active: State lawsuit filed to defend right to earn a living

For those unfamiliar with horses, there’s a specific procedure to care for the animals’ teeth known as “floating.” Floating—that is, removing sharp points from horses’ teeth—must be performed regularly throughout horses’ lives because their teeth continuously erupt from their gums. Floating smooths and evens the teeth, protecting soft tissue in the mouth and aiding comfort, digestion, and locomotion. It protects both horse and rider.

Horses generally need floating at least once annually, and twice a year for younger and high-performance horses. For places like Washington State, which has one of the largest equine populations in the country, an ample supply of floaters is critical.

Floating has a long history of being practiced by professionals who are not veterinarians. In fact, equine dentistry is rarely included in veterinary education programs. Instead, veterinarians and veterinary technicians can, and often do, seek specialized training at equine dental schools. But anyone can take this training at an equine dental school and become a competent floater.

Washington natives Jennifer Schultz and Ceanna Johnston are trained horse floaters who are eager to earn a living helping horses and their owners. They are neither vets nor vet techs. However, both studied and trained at specialized equine dental schools—Jenn was certified by the Equine Gnathological Training Institute in Idaho, while Ceanna graduated from The Horsemanship Dentistry School in Florida.

When they returned to their home state, their qualifications didn’t matter. Under Washington law, only licensed vets and vet techs can float horses’ teeth, and floating without a license risks civil and criminal punishment.

Yet in Washington, there are simply too few equine vets to cover this routine care for the state’s hundreds of thousands of horses. As a result, Jenn, Ceanna, and other trained floaters are forced to watch from the sidelines as vets and vet techs fail to meet the need of the state’s horses. Jenn and Ceanna are skilled and caring horse floaters. They are trained to integrate principles of horsemanship into their dental care, taking the time to learn about the specific horse’s personality and needs, and opting for hand tools without sedation unless other methods are truly necessary.

Washington should encourage, rather than criminalize, such skilled and caring trained professionals. By preventing horses from receiving adequate care, Washington’s overly restrictive law harms horses and unreasonably denies citizens their right to earn a living—a blatant violation of the Washington Constitution’s Privileges and Immunities Clause and the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

Represented at no charge by Pacific Legal Foundation, Jennifer and Ceanna are fighting back in state court for their right to provide an essential equine healthcare service without undue government interference.

What’s At Stake?

  • Trained professionals should be allowed to provide vital care to willing clients. By preventing horses from receiving much-needed adequate care, Washington’s overly restrictive licensing law risks harming the animals’ health and denying individuals their right to earn a living.
  • A state cannot interfere with the right to earn a living by privileging some professionals while excluding other competent professionals from the market for failure to meet irrelevant and burdensome licensure requirements. Equine dental care is no exception.

Case Timeline

December 22, 2023
Superior Court of Washington in and for Thurston County