Sarah Taggart’s first words were “mummy, daddy and horse”.

So it is no surprise that the 24-year-old Kesh entrepreneur used her love of horses to create a new business.

Sarah has recently returned to Fermanagh from working for Noord-Holland Equine Practice in the Netherlands and has established an equine dentistry practice for performance horses.

Equipped with a Business Studies HND from South West College and vast experience of working with some of the world’s most prestigious equine practices, she under-estimated just how difficult it would be to start a business in Fermanagh. However, one year on, her client list is growing and she has customers right throughout Ireland.

Sarah has been around horses from a young age, always having her own horses and ponies. Her summer holidays were spent at her aunts’ dressage yard in Maryland, USA.

Aged 16, the former pupil of St. Mary’s College, Irvinestown and St. Joseph’s Primary School, Ederney gained her first valuable work experience with former three-time Olympic eventing gold medallist Matt Ryan in Wales. “In hindsight, that is probably why I decided to go into equine dentistry,” Sarah tells The Impartial Reporter.

While in Mr. Ryan’s yard, Sarah was working with Olympic-standard horses. “He would open their mouths and tell me what was wrong. I quickly realised that there was much more to dentistry than sharp points,” Sarah explains.

Equine dentistry means “restoring the natural balance and function of the mouth which can be upset by horses living in a domesticated environment”, Sarah adds.

Her work includes ensuring the functionality of the mouth so that the horse gets maximum benefit from the food it is eating. “I get a lot of horses that aren’t feeding well; they are getting the right food but are not gaining weight. Often, it’s because their teeth aren’t meeting and they are not chewing the food properly,” says Sarah. The other strand to equine dentistry is performance. Sarah continues: “Often the wolf teeth interfere with the bit so it helps to extract those wolf teeth to make the horse more comfortable.” Following a four year Business Studies HND course at South West College, Sarah studied at the American School of Equine Dentistry in Virginia USA, and was taught under the guidance of Dr. Raymond Hyde.

“That school proved invaluable as a good basis to learning equine dentistry,” Sarah comments. “From there, I was keen to gain as much experience and education possible. After phoning various people all around the world and, I was offered the opportunity of an apprenticeship for Noord-Holland Equine Practice in the Netherlands.

“I was very lucky to secure that apprenticeship with the Vice President of the Dutch Equine Dentistry Association. Christie Breesen and her husband Aldo Deveran have an equine veterinary clinic,” says Sarah.

Whilst working for Noord- Holland Equine Practice, Sarah spent one day a week carrying out work for Raaphorst Equine Clinic based in the Hague. Raaphorst was founded by Dr Hans Van Schie, who was the team-veterinarian for the Dutch Olympic equestrian team for many years.

“I definitely learned invaluable lessons whilst in Holland,” Sarah states.

In September 2012, Sarah travelled to California to work for Dr. Richard Miller in his mobile equine dental clinic. “Dr. Miller has been practising equine dentistry for over 30 years, and has developed a lot of techniques that are used today in equine dentistry,” Sarah explains. During her time working with him she met “real cowboys; with 70,000 acre farms”! She was heartened by the fact that “they were used to a high standard and Richard would only take on the best”.

After identifying a gap in the market back home, Sarah made the decision to set up her own business. “I knew it was going to be difficult, but I completely underestimated how difficult!” she notes.

In terms of access to finance, she says: “There was nothing out there so I did it the old-fashioned way; got two jobs and a small credit union loan.” Sarah feels: “It has taken a long time but I’m glad I am up-and-running.” Her costs are high, with expensive equipment; paying for her ongoing training and travel costs, but she reports: “I am picking up clients each week, from Malin Head to Mizen Head.” She has found that her name has spread via word-of-mouth and social media.

Sarah is an associate member of the British Association Of Equine Dental Technicians (BAEDT) and is currently in the process of acquiring full membership of the BAEDT.