Monday, April 20, 2009

UPDATED 4/23/09: Mystery Solved in Polo Pony Deaths

UPDATE: April 23, 2009; Fla. Pharmacy Admits Blame in Polo Pony Deaths;
Click on title above for full updated report:
Polo vet: Tainted meds, performance drugs unlikely the culprit to dead horses


Palm Beach Post Staff Writers

Monday, April 20, 2009

WELLINGTON- — Twenty-one horses are confirmed dead after collapsing before a polo match Sunday, a team veterinarian said this morning adding that it was unlikely the culprit is performance enhancement drugs.

The horses, all from the same team, died one by one "almost certainly of an intoxication of some sort that they consumed," said Lechuzas Caracas team veterinarian James Belden, a local vet, who was among those working to save the horses using intravenous fluids.

Belden does not travel with the team but thought it was unlikely that the horses would be given anabolic steroids because the team competes in England where such drugs are prohibited.

"Almost certainly they don't use anabolic steroids," Belden said.

He also thought tainted medications — a concern raised late Sunday — was not likely because the horses are cared for so diligently, he said.

"I've been in practice 50 years," Belden said. " I've never seen anything like this."

Belden said as the horses died, the Lechuza's staff — including the grooms — were inconsolable.

"They're crestfallen. The grooms were crying the other day. They live with these horses," Belden said.

The Lechuza Caracas team was scheduled to play Sunday in a match as part of the U.S. Open Polo Championship at the International Polo Club Palm Beach, on 120th Avenue South. Each polo team typically brings about 24 horses to a match.

The horses began breathing heavily and stumbling at the Lechuza equestrian facility before they were brought to the polo club, Swerdlin said he was told.

The horses would become wobbly, their lungs would fill with fluid, and they would eventually succumb to cardiac arrest, Belden said.

Necropsies and blood tests will be done on the dead horses at a state-run clinic in Kissimmee. The carcasses were taken intact to the facility Sunday afternoon. Results could come as early as today.

Swerdlin wouldn't speculate on what happened to the horses. "I don't guess," he said. "I wait for evidence."

"It could be the water, hay, bedding, we just don't know. When we find out what it is, we will take all the necessary actions," said John Wash, president of club operations.

If the necropsies show the horses were illegally drugged, the Florida Department of Agriculture will conduct an investigation, polo club spokesman Tim O'Connor said. The United States Polo Association likely also would conduct an investigation, O'Connor said.

At the highly competitive level of the Wellington tournament, distributing "cocktails" to horses prior to matches to enhance their performance is a common practice, said several polo experts. The steroid-like chemicals are given to horses mixed with their water or can be administered by needle, the sources said.

According to several sources, the horses had a reaction to a steroid derivative that may have been tainted with a cleaning solution, the Sun Sentinel reported yesterday. The shots apparently were administered by an Argentine vet not licensed in the U.S., it further reported.

The horses started getting sick about 2:15 p.m. Officials at the polo club told spectators that the scheduled match, between Lechuza Caracas and Black Watch, had been canceled. A short time later officials announced an exhibition match would be held instead.

Onlookers ringed the tense little makeshift camp, weeping as they caught sight of the stricken horses.

"When they keeled over, the veterinarians ran cold water on them. We got fans out that shoot a fine mist of water to try to get their temperature down, just like you would with a person if they overheated," said Jimmy Newman, polo club manager.

Newman said it was too early to tell what had sickened the horses, which are kept in local private stables during the season.

One or two horses met a similar fate in Ocala within the past two years, said Dean Turney, executive director of the Wellington Equestrian Alliance. In that case, Turney said, the sickness was linked to contaminated feed.

"They were able to identify the source very quickly, within 24 hours," Turney said. "Another day or two after that, they got the lab results and they confirmed what the problem was."

By Sunday evening 14 horses were confirmed dead and seven others were sick and despite continuing efforts to save them, they had all died by Monday morning. Every horse that has shown signs of illness has now died.

"They started getting dizzy," O'Connor said of the scene at the polo club. "They dropped down right onto the grass."

The horses, sprawled by the field, were obscured by blue tarps as teams of veterinarians worked feverishly to revive them. Most of the spectators were unaware of the horse's illness.

Each of the animals, which were all between 10 and 11 years old, was valued at about $100,000, O'Connor said.

Peter Rizzo, executive director of the U.S. Polo Association, who was in the club when the horses fell ill, did not return a call for comment.

"Wellington is fortunate that we have several top-notch equine veterinarians, and they will be all over this," Turney added. "It will be tracked down."

The match that was called off Sunday was part of the U.S. Open Polo Championship, a 105-year-old tournament that bills itself as the oldest such event in the United States. The event was scheduled to run from April 3 through Sunday.

"There was no mention made that the horses were injured or that the horses were dead," said spectator Everett Crossman, a Lake Worth resident who used to own horses and play polo.

Clink on title above to go to article and see video;

UPDATE: April 23, 2009; Fla. Pharmacy Admits Blame in Polo Pony Deaths;

1 comment:

Horse tails said...

This is incrediably sad, I follow your blog. This is the first time I have commented on it. I hope you will post the lab results when they become available.

You are doing a great justice for the equine. Keep up the great blog.