Spotlight on Equine Fundraising with the Langford Trust

Mel Boughton is the owner of Jack, a 10-year-old gelding, who sadly suffers with trigeminal mediated headshaking. Mel’s struggles over the last 5 years to help Jack overcome this debilitating condition, have galvanised her into fundraising for the Langford Trust and horses in need.

A cruel condition

Trigeminal mediated headshaking is a neuropathic facial pain syndrome in horses, of unknown cause. Affected horses throw their heads up and down vertically, strike at their noses with their front legs and snort and rub their noses. They can be dangerous to ride and handle. Horses are likely to experience a range of types of pain, from pins and needles to burning and electric-shock like bursts. Neuropathic pain does not respond to normal painkillers and other treatment has been difficult, mostly because we do not know the cause. Many horses are euthanased for the condition as their lives become unbearable, others may be manageable if retired but the owners lose their riding horse. Work from the University of Bristol showed the condition affects 1-4% of the UK equine population, so this is a significant welfare problem.

Jack’s condition initially started with him violently flicking his head and dragging it on the concrete. The shaking got progressively worse to the point of being dangerous; with him rearing up during a ride and falling with Mel on the road. Desperate to help Jack, Mel contacted Veronica Roberts, European Specialist in Equine Internal Medicine, at Bristol Vet School for advice and diagnosis.

Mel explained, ‘I made what I thought was a long journey to Langford but it turns out the long journey is this condition. Headshaking is so frustrating and soul destroying. In July 2017 it got so bad, I almost made the decision to let Jack go. I’m pleased to say I didn’t give in, and although he has bad days, they appear far fewer now. Last year I even managed to ride him all summer.’ 

Mel is determined to help all horses suffering with this condition and approached the Langford Trust to explore how best to do this. As a result, the Langford Trust has established a fund specifically for research into trigeminal mediated headshaking and Mel is dedicating all her fundraising efforts to it. A better scientific understanding of this condition and identification of potential therapies is essential if we want to make a real difference to horses.

Research for a pain free life

The Langford Trust have an excellent history of funding research into headshaking by the University of Bristol’s Veronica Roberts. The Trust have funded work into improving diagnosis and their funding for a pilot study into treatment has led to the development of a non-invasive procedure resulting in remission of pain to over 50% of treated horses. Veronica has the most first author peer-reviewed papers on the subject than any other vet and speaks regularly at national and international conferences and webinars. She has recently sat for her PhD by publication in the subject. She is regularly asked to give advice on cases from all over the world. She is available to see headshaking cases and perform clinical research on behalf of the University at the B and W Equine Hospital at Breadstone, Gloucestershire.

Veronica’s next research project aims to improve the way we judge outcomes from treatment. There are many published and unpublished treatments and owners can spend many months or even years, trying treatments and being unsure of whether they are helping; there is a proven 30% placebo effect to evaluating response to headshaking treatment, because we cannot ask the horse how he or she feels. Time spent on ineffective treatments is pain to the horse and money to the owner. Veronica therefore plans to develop an objective measure of the severity of headshaking signs.

The Langford Trust is funding a 2-year clinical research study led by Veronica to validate an accelerometer as a tool to obtain an objective measurement of headshaking frequency and severity in horses diagnosed with trigeminal mediated headshaking. The project will cost £4,000 but hopefully save far more in terms of welfare.

Donate and make a difference

Mel is already busy raising funds to help further Veronica’s research and is designing an array of handcrafted gifts and keepsakes which she sells via Nodding Neddies on Facebook.

If you wish to make a donation to the Langford Trust headshaking fund please donate here or contact the office on 07986 537302.

Thank you for supporting this important veterinary research and for making a difference to equine health and welfare.

The Langford Trust 2021 Newsletter

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