MONMOUTH — Kristene Aubin started her work with a coo.

“Good girl,” she said, stroking the chestnut mare’s nose. “Aw, good girl.”

In the horse stall next door, Aubin had just finished filing down the sharp edges of Raeco’s teeth — called floating. The palomino was pretty easy, only backing up a couple of times. Aubin was in and out in less than 20 minutes.

Now it was Lakota’s turn.  

“I have a very different approach with her than I do Raeco,” Aubin said. “With her, there’s way more sweet-talking, lots of cookies. Because she’s not just like, ‘OK, yeah, you can do this.’ I’ve got to earn it every single time.”

After four years as an equine dentist, Aubin, 31, has built her work on a philosophy: be patient, be kind, know the horse. 

“We take lots of breaks. We stay very quiet. We  keep the experience as pleasant as we possibly can,” she said. 

Growing up in New Hampshire, Aubin was a self-described “typical horse-crazy girl.” In high school she wanted a career with horses, but that idea soon was extinguished. 

“People say you can’t make money with horses. You need to get the good job so you can afford to have horses,” Aubin said.

So for nearly 10 years she worked with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the last five as a contracting officer. She enjoyed it at first and liked the people, but the job wore her down.

“I was working 12-hour days, answering email from home. I had no downtime. I really was very miserable doing what I was doing,” she said.

Then, a pair of friends — Jana Scotia and her son, Steve — offered Aubin an opportunity. They owned Scotia Equine Dental in Buckfield and they needed help.

“So I started riding with them when I had days off or when somebody was working on a weekend,” she said. “I got to stick my hand in a horse’s mouth and feel everything before the work was done and then feel it after the work was done, and it was just this huge (sense of ) ‘Oh my god, I’m hooked!’ It was the ability to be like, ‘This is broken, but I can fix this for you. I can make you more comfortable. I can help you and I can help your owner.’ It’s just so, so, so cool.”

Although veterinarians can do dentistry, not all equine dentists are vets. Aubin, who is not a veterinarian, went to the Equine Gnathological Training Institute in Idaho. 

It was there that her very first patient crushed her thumb between his teeth. She wrapped it up and went back to training.

When Aubin returned to Maine, she joined Scotia Equine Dental. She felt lucky to be able to call the Scotias her mentors.

“People fell in love with (Jana Scotia) because she just has this amazing way with horses,” Aubin said. “She wasn’t even really known as a business name. It was Jana. If you had a horse that needed to be floated, you hunted down Jana Scotia.”

Even after horses reach adulthood, their teeth continuously, if slowly, push through their gums. If not filed, their teeth develop sharp points that can cut their cheeks and can lead to eating problems, behavior issues and medical problems. There aren’t many equine dental specialists in Maine — Aubin knows of only six others. Because of that, her skills are often in demand.

Aubin travels all over Maine and into New Hampshire, seeing an average of five or six horses a day. Her specialty: filing down teeth without power tools and, usually, without sedation. 

Her approach with the horses is calm, focused and patient. Very patient.

“A lot of times, what you’ll see is people will try to force it, they’ll lose their temper, their patience. They’ll be like, ‘Come on, I don’t have all day, horse.’ They’ll poke and prod,” she said, petting Raeco as she waited for him to open his mouth for the bit-like speculum she uses to get access to a horse’s back teeth. “I’ll just wait because most of the time if you just wait, they’ll go, ‘Oh, OK, this is no big deal.'”

If a horse gets too agitated, sometimes she simply stops the visit and comes back another time.

It’s that willingness to put the horse’s needs first that’s pleased Sally Labree, owner of Bittersweet Farm in Monmouth and horses Raeco and Lakota. She’s called on Aubin for more than three years.

“The first time Kristene came it was like, ahh. It was like, OK, I’m going to be all right, I found someone. Because it’s a big deal,” Labree said. “When you love your horses and you want the best for them, when you find that good person it’s wonderful. It’s like finding a really good doctor.”

She doesn’t balk at the cost — $60 for an annual float, plus a barn-call fee that varies depending on how far Aubin has to drive.

“We really want to try to keep our prices affordable because we want to encourage more people to do it,” Aubin said.

Soon she’ll be dealing with pricing on her own. Later this summer, she plans to step away from Scotia Equine Dental to set up her own practice, Whole Horse Dentistry. She will continue to call on Steve Scotia when needed. He has a way with horses behaving badly. 

On Friday, though, Aubin didn’t need help. Raeco was easy.

And then there was Lakota.

She wasn’t pleased with the situation, especially when Aubin started working on her back teeth. But after dancing a bit and twitching her head, she let Aubin finish.

“You’re such a brave girl. Yes, you are,” Aubin told her.

Have an idea for Animal Tales? Call Lindsay Tice at 689-2854 or email her at [email protected].

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