BROOKSTON — Tom Howell, the Hoosier Tooth Fairy, was tucked away in a corner stall of the main horse barn at Camp Tecumseh working miracles.
With a simple alignment of the jaw, Howell improved the life of each of the horses he worked with Tuesday morning.
The Crawfordsville resident is the only equine orthodontist in the United States practicing his craft. He does it out of a love for animals. As a child he always had an interest in horses.
His obsession with learning about the importance of proper dental health for horses began more than 10 years ago, after one of his horses died. Howell said the horse’s death was caused by an equine dentist who didn’t know what he was doing.
After the horse’s death Howell took an interest in the profession, learning from a dentist in New York. He went so far as to quit his job at Nucor Steel after 16 years.
“A lot of people thought I was crazy because I had a good job,” he said.
Ten years later he has become the only equine orthodontist in the United States practicing non-sedation orthodontics work.
“I never thought that it would get to this level,” he said. “It has turned into an adventure and a labor of love. It’s not just my job, it is a hobby.”
Howell is still learning. Every day when he walks into the barn he acquires more knowledge.
“My biggest teachers are the horses themselves,” he said. “What I get from the horses is fact. What I get from people is just opinion.”
Proper alignment of a horse’s mouth is fundamental to its health, he said. It helps horses with performance and balance.
By just watching the horse and talking with its owner, Howell has a good idea of the work that needs to be done before he even opens the horse’s mouth. After realignment a horse is almost instantaneously comfortable.
Jamie Volaski, a former Camp Tecumseh employee and horse lover, was amazed by Howell’s work.
“This is probably the coolest thing I have ever seen,” she said.
Amy Gleason, a Camp Tecumseh employee, said that was her reaction during Howell’s first visit to the camp in November.
“We just want the horses to be happy,” Gleason said. “With Tom coming in we are now improving the longevity of their lives.”
Gleason watched in amazement in November as Tom realigned the mouth of Chief, a paint horse owned by the camp.
“You could just tell when he was done that Chief was breathing a sigh of relief,” she said.
Howell said as he works with the horses they become more calm. He said the calmer the animal is, the more it is agreeable to what he is doing.
Howell cautions anyone who is having dental work done on their horses to be careful.
“If the person working on your horse can’t tell you what is wrong by looking at them, you shouldn’t let them in the horse’s mouth,” he said.
Domestic horses have a more difficult time of keeping their mouth in alignment because of the lack of motion and room to run on most farms. Wild horses that have open ranges to run can keep full balance.
Howell recommends horse owners have their animals checked annually to keep them healthy.
Howell aligns a horse’s mouth by filling specific teeth. He said he finds himself a lot of times fixing the mistakes of dentists who use power tools or air tools to work on horses' teeth.
“I have built my reputation on being able to fix those horses,” he said. “You have to understand that everything works in harmony with a horse.”
Howell not only works on domestic horses, he also has worked on several racing horses during the past 10 years. Shortly after working on a race horse he said he makes a quick trip to the ticket window to bet on the horse.
“There is a good chance he is going to be the winner,” Howell said.
Howell is working on two books, one for the horse owners so they know what to look for, and an educational piece to teach people who want to go into the field. Howell is also considering starting a school in Crawfordsville to teach people his profession.
“There is a lot of interest in this,” he said. “I want to produce students who can take it to the next level.”
Howell credits his wife for his success.
“You have to have a good wife behind you to accomplish what I have,” he said.