The world is full of problems, problems, problems, but I learned this week that Nebraska has its own special problem: a shortage of licensed horse massage therapists.
That means not enough properly trained humans are available to give equine a massage, not that too few horses able to give others a massage, to be clear.
Oh, you think I'm kidding? Why shouldn't a horse be able to get a good massage, anyway?
I shouldn't make fun, according to Republican state Sen. Mike Groene of Nebraska.
"It's an industry," Groene said, as reported by The Associated Press. "They eat a lot of oats, they do a lot of business with veterinarians, but they can't find a masseuse in the state of Nebraska. This is serious. It's affecting our ag economy."
OK. I understand, but ... this story still made me (s)nicker.
Nebraska has not even one licensed equine massage therapist, with lawmakers who are trimming regulations over other professions, too, placing blame on a process that's expensive, rigorous and affords jail time for those who violate the law.
"It flies in the face of reason that you need that much more education just to massage a horse," said Karen Hough, a rural Nebraskan who is unable to massage horses because of the regulations, the AP reported.
Now, I thought horse massage sounded pretty "out there" when I first read the headline on this story, but after I thought about it, I can see that it makes sense. I shouldn't be a "neigh"sayer.
For one thing, we'll do a lot for our pets, and horses are somewhere between pets and run-of-the-mill livestock, aren't they? That depends on who owns them and what for, of course.
One of my sisters has loved horses as long as we can remember. She owns a horse, Domino, for use in stunt/trick riding. She rides that four-legged mode of transportation while standing on the saddle, or doing vaults on and off, etc., to put on a good show.
She's a lot more brave than I am. I'd do well to just plain get on a horse, and I'd probably worry about my weight leaving his belly sagging in the middle.
But I digress.
Domino is sort of a pet -- the kids love him -- but also livestock with a purpose and a use. He's not just eye candy, nor is he a candidate for a "lap pet" like a dog or a cat.
But think about the last time you scratched your dog under the chin, or pet a cat on the head. They love the attention and the physical affection. Why not extend that to horse massage?
The AP reports that, for high-performance horses, this therapy is common practice across the nation. It's said to help increase their range of motion and relieve tension.
Well, massage does that for humans. Why not equine?
This week in the Nebraska statehouse, lawmakers are considering joining 13 other states that don't require licenses for horse massage. And Nebraska is a big state for equine: an estimated 150,000 horses occupy the cornhusker state -- or about one for every 12 citizens, the AP reports.
Groene sponsors the horse massage bill relaxing (pun intended) regulations for this practice. It's part of a bigger effort by both parties to trim licensing rules in many professions, as the AP reported.
And just what do the current rules call for? Let me quote the AP directly: "Obtaining an equine massage therapist license in Nebraska requires a veterinarian degree or completion of 1,000 hours of classes to become a licensed human massage therapist and an additional 150 class hours to receive an animal therapist license. No Nebraska schools offer the needed animal therapy courses."
Opponents say current regulations are needed so that animals are not harmed and underlying health problems don't go unnoticed. But lawmaker Groene says it just doesn't make good horse sense -- OK, he didn't put it that way; I just wanted to add another pun to this column -- to curb equine massage when horses "generate an estimated $700 million annually in supplies and services," the AP stated.
I can certainly understand the dollar signs behind the industry.
Look at what many of us spend on our pets. Just for routine care, there are annual shots, things like heartworm treatment and supplies like food, water bowls, collars, pet beds and much more.
Then, with some of these things going the extra mile, there is canine and feline dental care, grooming, pet day care (seriously!), and related items such as fencing in the yard or buying and maintaining a kennel, toys and other accessories.
This is a big industry, and getting bigger, from anecdotal evidence, all the time.
Forgive me for not including the costs of having hamsters, guinea pigs, snakes, parakeets, parrots and other creatures also cherished as pets. I'm not as familiar with those.
But keeping pets and livestock is an expensive proposition. Some animals may "pay for themselves," such as dairy or beef cattle. But most are an expense we have for the joy of having a pet.
So, as much as we do for our animals, why would massage be so far out there as an option?
I can see where it would relax a horse and make it feel better. Of course ... where do we rein in this kind of trend?
Shall we start massage therapy for pet snakes? I'm not sure how you could even rub a snake's back so that it'd be therapeutic. And how does he let you know that he likes the massage? An extra hiss?
I know dogs like their bellies scratched. Will the government have us get licenses for this next? Will support groups spring up -- something like the Pet Association for Simple Scratch Therapy (PASST)? Or the Masseuse Association kNeading Equine (MANE)?
I admit I wouldn't have much idea about how to give a horse a massage. Do you put hot towels on his back first? Do mares appreciate light, soft music and racehorses something like the theme song from "Secretariat"?
As usual, I have more questions than answers, more puns than real humor. But this is just all off the hoof for me.
I say, don't saddle professionals with too many regulations, but keep enough laws in place to protect equine and human alike. Rein in where you have to, and trot on where you can.
Now I'm in the mood for a massage and a horse ride. Maybe there's a place around here that offers both.
Would that be too much to ask?