By now just about everyone has read about the 21 polo ponies that died in Wellington, Fla. (some reports now have the death toll at 23).
The ponies, all members of the Lechuza Caracaus polo team, had been scheduled to play in a match on Sunday at the U.S. Open Polo Championship, a 105-year-old tournament that bills itself as the oldest such event in the United States, and which is considered to be the most prestigious in the nation. The remaining ponies on the Lechuza Caracaus team, those scheduled not to play, so far are still fine.
According to reports, the horses began to show signs of illness — breathing heavily and stumbling — at their stable, before they were brought to the polo club. Once they arrived, the horses appeared disoriented and dizzy, their lungs filled will fluid and they succumbed to cardiac arrest.Vets suspect a reaction to a toxin although it is unclear how they were exposed. Feed, bedding and supplements will be examined. Since there are no drug restrictions for polo ponies in the US (in Europe, anabolic steroid use is banned) veterinarians performing necropsies will also look for signs of drugs — tainted or otherwise. To have so many horses from one team die so suddenly and virtually simultaneously while the remaining team horses remain healthy, makes it seem more likely that these horses might have been injected with a toxin. Results from the necropsies are expected by the end of the week.
Having watched my own horse go down with an undiagnosed illness last year I can’t imagine the heartbreak of seeing a team of polo ponies collapse and die. It must have been a heartbreaking scene.