Akruti Choksi is not only India’s first formally trained equine dentist, but she also happens to be a woman in the country’s very male-dominated world of horses. Instead of settling abroad, she chose to stay and help educate the local community about the importance of horse dentistry. Having worked as a horse dentist in India for a decade, she tells us how she has seen the industry and mindsets change over the years.
Author: Charlotte Kingsman
Question: How did you choose to become a horse dentist in India, a rather unusual choice given your circumstances?
When I came back to India after finishing high school in California, my parents put me in dental school – something considered a good profession for a girl in India. However, I used all my free time during dentistry school to get involved in animal rescue work, writing about animal rights issues in local newspapers and volunteering with animals and children. I did work hard in school but deep down I knew that it was not my passion. After graduating I still carried on for 3 years as a regular dentist, trying my best to conform to societal pressures and become a pediatric dentist.
One day, however, I did some research into other fields related to animals. I had heard about equine dentistry and, after further research, realised that, in developed countries, vets often work with equine dental technicians. At that point, I knew this was my calling!
Of course, I was told that something like this would never work in a country like India. But I was very clear about two things in life, that I love animals and that I want to stay in India. I felt that I wanted to do something creative, fun and something that adds value to the lives of animals – something that would make me truly happy. My practice of Nichiren Buddhism also played a big part in encouraging me to take that leap of faith.
Q: Where did you do your training?
I had had very little interaction with horses apart from the occasional horse riding lessons. So I decided to go to New Zealand. The timing was unfortunate; the country was going through one of its coldest winters as well as an economic recession. But I was very lucky to have my parent’s support in this endeavour in spite of all the odds. I had to learn everything from scratch. Therefore I put in extra hours of work just hanging around horses unsupervised (unlike in India where there are always grooms around). I had to unlearn and relearn so many little things, especially horsemanship skills to deal with unsedated horses. Luckily, I found an amazing teacher and guide – Warwick Behrns – to help me with it. Later I went to the US to update my skills with the International Association of Equine Dentistry where equine dental technicians and vets themselves get accredited.
I feel very lucky to have been able to work with some amazing vets and horse dentists from India, Egypt, USA, Australia, New Zealand and the UK which has helped me get a wider perspective for my work.
A few years ago, I also learned about telepathic communication. This has helped me make the right diagnosis and treatment. I am also India’s first ‘conscious horse rider’ practitioner, something I learnt in the US. I never used to believe in these things but I have seen some amazing changes. The clients who tested me in terms of animal communication have also been surprised by the results.
Q: What are your biggest challenges as a woman being a horse dentist in India?
I faced many challenges when I came back to India after completing my course. At first I was mocked. Grooms refused to listen to me. I was tested every step of the way. But I continued to do my part and slowly and steadily won the trust of the men around me – from the grooms to the trainers and jockeys.
Other challenges included safety concerns, especially while travelling to new places. However, a lot of these are regular issues that many women face in many industries in India. I found that the best way to handle these situations is to nip things in the bud with a direct conversation which sets clear boundaries whilst remaining professional.
There are always good people and bad people around you but I feel being a woman has actually been my biggest asset because we can be softer and more gentle with horses. I always try to earn their respect rather than force them. I feel that once you win the trust and respect of the people you work with they treat you as an equal regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman.
Q: What are some of the most memorable stories you have?
I saw once vets rasping equines and bovines teeth with a farrier’s foot rasp. Some people would also break or extract canines, thinking they are wolf teeth. You can only imagine how painful this would be for horses!
Another time, I accompanied a team of international equine specialists who came to India. They were mostly women – as the equine industry abroad is mostly women. We got teased and disrespected in the rural parts of India. I even had to scare people away with a dental rasp! Yet another time, we were working in the streets and one of the women farriers was eve teased while she worked on a pony. However, within 20 minutes the same disrespectful people appreciated her work. They even praised her. That was very rewarding.
In the state of Maharashtra, we conducted free clinics for horses. Everyone assumed that the men present were the senior vets, but actually the senior vet was a woman!
Having said that, 98% of the men I have worked with are absolutely wonderful. They are gentlemen who have taken care of my safety and security and treated me as an equal. I have found that if you conduct yourself in a respectful and professional manner people tend to do the same.
Q: What aspect of being a horse dentist in India do you like most?
The best part of doing dental work is knowing that a horse is standing still and letting you do your work because they want to feel better after. I know that pulling the caps of younger horses can hurt them but they are very sweet and patient – as though they know I am just trying to help. The horse cuddles I get before and after the work are an amazing reward.
Once, I saw a difficult horse at a race become the epitome of patience and compassion as I did energy work for an autistic child who loves horses. The girl and her sister were very happy to be around a horse and kept grabbing the horse’s nose and face. The horse calmly obliged, almost as if he knew they were only children. His compassion was incredible.
Q: Has the field and work environment changed since you started practising?
I have been practising for 10 years now. The work environment has changed a lot over that time and I feel people do take my skill and profession more seriously now than they did before. In the initial stages, my practice grew only through word of mouth. People who used to laugh at my skill and prices today understand the value and have seen the benefits of good dental work.
Instagram and Facebook have become useful tools to promote education regarding horses. I conduct demonstrations or clinics in different parts of the country to promote awareness regarding equine dentistry.
I have developed wonderful friendships based on trust and respect with people of various backgrounds in this industry. The same grooms who used to be disrespectful have complete faith in my work today. They trust my way of working and realise that the horses are way more relaxed and cooperative.
And of course there are even more amazing and interesting articles about India on Equestrian Adventuresses. There you can learn more about the equestrian culture and of course also about the Marwari horses.
Charlotte is a regular contributor to Equestrian Adventuresses. Check out the other articles Charlotte wrote.