About Scope of Practice

by Kevin Haussler, DVM, DC, PhD

Within the equine industry, there are individuals who claim to be able to provide some form a care or a promised cure for which owners are willing to pay. The question arises, are these people qualified, and if so, what type of care or skills are they trained to provide? The answer to this question is often based on licensure and scope of practice.

So what does scope of practice mean?

Scope of practice refers to the specific activities and responsibilities that individuals within a particular profession are authorized and qualified to perform. It defines the boundaries of what professionals can do based on their education, training, licensure, and competency. The scope of practice varies from one profession to another and is typically governed by laws, regulations, and professional standards.

Licensing ensures that professionals have met specific educational and competency standards, which helps protect the public by ensuring that those offering services have the necessary qualifications and skills. Licensed individuals have a broader and more defined scope due to their formal qualifications and adherence to professional standards. Unlicensed individuals have a more limited scope, typically involving basic patient care and support activities, as they cannot perform medical or surgical procedures or provide medical advice.

The key difference between the scope of practice for licensed and unlicensed individuals lies in their legal authority and professional qualifications.

Licensed individuals:

  • Licensed professionals have completed the required education, training, and examinations necessary to obtain a license in their specific field.
  • The scope of practice for licensed individuals is determined and regulated by the licensing board or governing body responsible for their profession.
  • They are legally authorized to perform certain tasks, procedures, or services within their defined scope based on their training and competency.
  • Licensed individuals are held accountable to adhere to professional standards and
    guidelines, and their activities are subject to oversight and regulation.

Unlicensed individuals:

  • Unlicensed individuals lack the formal qualifications and legal authorization to practice certain professions or perform specific tasks.
  • They may have limited or no formal education or training in the particular field of practice.
    However, certification programs may provide an introductory level of education and basic working knowledge.
  • The scope of practice for unlicensed individuals is usually restricted and limited to basic activities that do not require specialized knowledge or expertise.
  • Unlicensed individuals are not subject to the same professional regulations and oversight as licensed professionals.

Here’s a brief overview of the scope of practice for some of the professions involved in providing equine care:

  1. Veterinarians: Licensed professionals who diagnose, treat, and prevent diseases and
    injuries in animals. Their scope of practice includes performing physical exams, administering medications, performing surgeries, interpreting diagnostic tests, providing vaccinations, dental care, and offering general healthcare for animals.
  2. Chiropractors: Licensed human professionals who primarily focus on the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders, particularly those related to the spine. Their scope of practice involves using manipulation techniques to alleviate pain and improve the overall function of the nervous system. Some chiropractors may also provide lifestyle and nutritional advice.
  3. Acupuncturists: Licensed practitioners who insert thin needles into specific points on the body to promote healing and balance energy flow. Their scope of practice revolves around using acupuncture to treat various conditions and promote overall well-being.
  4. Bodyworkers and massage therapists: This diverse group of practitioners use manual techniques to address muscle and myofascial pain, release tension, and improve joint range of motion and posture. The scope of practice for bodyworkers and massage therapists varies depending on their specific training and credentials.
  5. Equine dentists: Professionals specialized in the dental care of horses. Their scope of
    practice involves examining and treating dental issues in horses, including floating teeth, addressing dental malocclusions, and other dental procedures specific to equine dentistry.
  6. Farriers: Skilled professionals who specialize in the trimming and shoeing of hooves for horses and other hoofed animals. Their scope of practice revolves around assessing hoof health, trimming hooves to maintain proper balance and function, and applying horseshoes as needed to protect hooves and address gait issues.
  7. Saddle fitters: Professionals who specialize in fitting saddles to horses and riders to ensure proper comfort, balance, and alignment during riding. Their scope of practice involves assessing the horse’s back and the rider’s position, selecting suitable saddles, and making necessary adjustments to achieve an optimal fit.

Scope of practice helps ensure patient safety by ensuring that professionals are only performing tasks they are qualified to do. It also helps maintain standards of care within the industry and avoids encroachment on other professionals’ areas of expertise. Regulatory bodies and professional organizations often define and enforce the scope of practice for different professions to maintain the integrity and quality of services provided.

It’s important to note that the scope of practice can vary by jurisdiction and may be subject to specific regulations, certifications, or licenses. Practitioners should always ensure they are working within the legal and ethical boundaries of their profession and seek appropriate training and accreditation. And owners should never hesitate to ask the members of their prospective care team to provide their credentials and describe their clinical experience working with horses.

We’d love to hear you on this topic. How do you, as an equine practitioner or horse
owner, experience scope of practice where you live? Do you agree that scope of practice
protects the horse and the owner? As an owner, do you ask your care team about their
credentials? As a practitioner, are you proud to present your credentials? How do
practitioners “stay in their own lane” while collaborating closely with the veterinarian
and other members of the horse’s care team?

Stay tuned for our next post about the use of the verbs “to diagnose” and “to
treat” by different professionals in the equine industry.

Want to learn more?

Browse our RACE-approved catalog of online learning modules.


Want to learn more?

Browse our RACE-approved catalog of online learning modules.