TAILS FROM THE TRAILS
Elizabeth Stoner loves her job, passionately — and it shines through.
Born and raised in South Florida, she grew up in Plantation wanting only one thing: a horse. Starting at age three, her grandfather would send her birthday and holiday cards that included special gifts: vouchers good for a one-hour ride at a local rent-a-horse stable. Eventually she worked at barns as a working student, riding hunter/jumpers.
Elizabeth still rides, mostly pleasure and trails. And she finally got her own horse. Her husband helped her buy Royal, a consignment horse at one of the barns. But her life’s work wasn’t in riding. She became an equine dental technician. “I’m not a vet,” she is quick to point out. “I work in conjunction with vets, but I specialize in teeth.”
Horses’ teeth grow continuously throughout their lives. Permanent teeth erupt throughout the first five years, pushing out the baby caps. Because of how horses chew, the molars can develop sharp points on the outside edges of top teeth and inside edges of bottom teeth.
Elizabeth attended the American School of Equine Dentistry in Ocala in 2013. There, she learned through schoolwork, lectures, demonstrations, and, eventually, hands-on practice.
“The most common procedures are extracting wolf teeth, checking for malocclusions and overgrowth, and floating,” she said.
Floating is the term for filling down those sharp points using floats, small rasps attached to long handles. “The goal is for all the teeth to touch and match so the horse can masticate evenly.”
After she passed her final exam, it was time for Elizabeth to build her own practice. It has taken her a couple of years, mostly through referrals and word of mouth, but she has added clients. She combines dentistry with natural horsemanship techniques, and is always willing to work in conjunction with veterinarians or to seek a second opinion. “I have no ego involved in this,” she said. “What I care about is the horse’s well-being.”
Elizabeth finds most horses fairly tractable, but there are always a few challenging equines. However, she and her assistant, Brook Wood, who also happens to be her sister-in-law and best friend, patiently work with each horse, taking time to make the horse feel safe and relaxed. There’s a lot of positive reinforcement and there are breaks in between sessions.
“I don’t use tranquilizers, which I can’t legally give, since I’m not a vet,” Elizabeth said. “If a horse is really too difficult, I’ll coordinate with a vet. Horses are like people — some they just don’t like dentists. I’m always willing to do whatever it takes to make the experience less stressful for the horse. I prefer keeping things natural, simple and comfortable for the horse.”
Elizabeth said that all horses should have their teeth checked on an annual basis.
“Horses are silent sufferers,” she said. “Extreme sharp points can gouge their cheeks, like you biting your cheek over and over. The owner can have no idea their horse is in extreme pain, which can migrate to the TMJ joint and the poll, causing a horse to react with behaviors like rearing and bucking, and the rider has no idea that the underlying cause is tooth pain. Older horses can develop other problems and even lose teeth. Warning signs include losing weight, dropping feed and bad breath.
Lorie Valentino, a veterinarian who boards her 20-year-old Holsteiner gelding at the same barn as Elizabeth, has seen her work and is impressed. “She is knowledgeable, enthusiastic, knows horses and does a great job,” Lorie said. “She is very professional. I use her myself. I highly recommend her.”
Madison McLaughlin has two horses: a 25-year-old Thoroughbred and a three-year-old Quarter Horse. She has used Elizabeth for three years.
“She’s really the best horse dentist in this area,” Madison said. “My old horse was very skittish, but Elizabeth took her time and worked with him, and he loves her. I also appreciate that she does only the work that is needed. She really cares about the horses. She even did some pro bono work on a couple of rescue horses left behind at our barn. She is always available if I call with questions.”
Based in Broward, Elizabeth has many clients in Palm Beach County. Her prices are affordable. “Doing this work, helping horses every day, is a big part of who I am,” she said. “This is my passion. I’m blessed to be able to do this every day.”
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/stonerequinedental or call (954) 218-4707.