Vet students at The University of Nottingham worked alongside the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment and Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery to protect the health of The Queen’s most iconic military ceremonial horses by undertaking an ambitious screening programme against a potentially life-threatening equine disease.
The initiative, which saw the students from the University’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science examine 400 of Her Majesty’s military horses alongside British Army veterinarians and soldiers, has enabled both units to declare themselves as Strangles-free.
Dr Gayle Hallowell, of the University’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Sciences, supervised the group of 30 third, fourth and final-year students, along with colleague Prof Mark Bowen and the Army Veterinary teams, while they spent six days examining the military horses and making decisions on their treatment and care.
Dr Hallowell said: “This was a fantastic experience for our students – a rare opportunity for them to get hands on and put their practical equine skills through their paces with real working animals in a fast-paced and challenging working environment.
“They were given a huge amount of responsibility and they really stepped up to the mark. Not only will the experience allow them to demonstrate real transferable skills to future employees but they have played a vital role in ensuring that these horses are fit and protected for the 21st Century.”
Major Harriet Church of the Household Cavalry Regiment said: “Testing the large number of military horses based in London would have been impossible for Regimental vets to tackle in a realistic time period without the students and clinicians of Nottingham’s Veterinary School. Their drive and dedication ensured that every single horse could be tested and treated prior to the horses’ Christmas leave period. The work undertaken by the Regiments and The University of Nottingham epitomises the passion that both organisations have for the health and welfare of our horses. This commitment ensures we can continue to deliver ceremonial duties to the highest standards.”
What is Strangles?
Strangles is a highly contagious equine respiratory bacterial infection of the nose and throat which in around 20 per cent of cases develops further complications including become carriers or developing potentially life-threatening problems if it spreads to the lungs and other parts of the body.
Signs include a loss of appetite and difficulty eating, an increased temperature, nasal discharge, cough, swollen glands in the throat area and, in more serious cases, difficulty breathing.
Because it spreads so rapidly though water droplets, most commonly via shared water troughs and buckets, it can quickly infect large groups of horses stabled together, for example in livery yards or military regiments. To prevent further spread of the disease, the facility must be quarantined until 28 days after the final case which can incur major economic losses for the equine industry.
The disease is caused by the Streptococcus bacteria and is related to the strain which causes sore throats and meningitis in humans.
Around 10 per cent of horses are carriers for the disease, harbouring a low level of the bacteria in their guttural pouches which evade their own immune response that would not cause illness but allow them to infect other animals which may become dangerously ill.
Protecting a Royal tradition
The collaborative Strangles eradication programme began at the Defence Animal Centre, Melton, Leicestershire where the University conducts much of its equine teaching; regularly conducting surgery and rehabilitating military horses.
The students and clinicians of The University of Nottingham and a small number of fellow vet students and staff from the Royal Veterinary College, were invited to London in November to spend six days over the course of two weeks examining 400 horses from the KTRHA and Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment at their bases in London. The horses range from the big, powerful black Irish Draught of the Household Cavalry to the smaller, faster and lithe Irish Sports horses of the Kings Troop RHA.
The Regiments are internationally recognised for the state ceremonial and public duties which they perform. The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment provides the Sovereign’s body guard, on duty throughout the year at Horse Guards or escorting the royal carriage on major state occasions. Indeed, the sight of a mounted Trooper resplendent in cuirasses and plumed helmet is an image that has become part of the very fabric of the nation.
The King’s Troop is a mounted ceremonial saluting battery. With their six WW1 thirteen pounder field guns pulled by teams of six horses, the Troop’s duties include the firing of royal salutes in Hyde Park and Green Park on royal anniversaries and state occasions. Both units form a key part of the Queen’s Birthday Parade every June and are central to state visits. Due to the high-profile nature of their duties, it is imperative that all the horses are kept healthy and that disease does not risk the ability to conduct these important duties.
To screen the horses for Strangles, the students first administered a sedative by injection to make it easier to examine the animals. They then inserted an endoscope - a flexible, tubular camera into the airway. A guide wire was used to enable access into the two air sacs (guttural pouches) in the throat to identify any signs of bacterial pus which may indicate the horse is infected or is a carrier.
Saline was administered to flush out the bacteria and this sample was sent to the lab for analysis. The horses found to be harbouring the bacteria were quarantined and treated with an antibiotic gel to kill the infection. The Regiments then enforced a strict isolation period for more than 3 weeks until each case had tested clear.
The regiments have devised a new hygiene strategy with advice from Nottingham’s vet academics in a bid to prevent re-infection, will use the same screening methods for new horses that join them. They have now taken the progressive and important step of declaring themselves strangles free.
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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with a “distinct” approach to internationalisation, which rests on those full-scale campuses in China and Malaysia, as well as a large presence in its home city.’ (Times Good University Guide 2016). It is also one of the most popular universities in the UK among graduate employers and was named University of the Year for Graduate Employment in the 2017 The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide. It is ranked in the world’s top 75 by the QS World University Rankings 2015/16, and 8th in the UK for research power according to the Research Excellence Framework 2014. It has been voted the world’s greenest campus for four years running, according to Greenmetrics Ranking of World Universities.
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