21 Horses dead at Wellington polo club

21 Horses dead at Wellington polo club

The death toll is now 21 horses struck by a mysterious ailment just before competition at the U.S. Open polo tournament in Wellington, according to media reports today.

At least 14 polo horses, worth as much as $1.5 million, collapsed and died Sunday. Another seven died later, according to CBS 12.

Unconfirmed reports put the number of dead horses at more than 30.

“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 A. Walsh, polo club president. They had a reaction to something. We don't know what,” he said.

Veterinarians tried feverishly to save the expensive polo ponies while a stunned, hushed crowd at the International Polo Club Palm Beach looked on.

Vets hooked up intravenous tubes to the horses and fought to help them breathe. Fans sprayed water mist to cool their bodies.

Large blue tarps screened the horses from the crowd.

“They started getting dizzy,” polo club spokesman Tim O'Connor said. “They dropped down right onto the grass.”

The horses were part of the Venezuelan-based Lechuza Caracas team and had been kept at the team's complex near the polo stadium in Wellington.

Each polo team typically brings about 24 horses to a match. Seven horses died at the Polo Club and the rest died after leaving the property, O'Connor said.

At least three other horses were being treated Sunday, two at the Palm Beach Equine Clinic and one at the team's complex.

Dr. Scott Swerdlin, a member of the Palm Beach Equine Clinic — International Polo's consulting veterinarian group — was at the scene. “Some died right away,” he said. “Others lasted about 45 minutes.”

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

Necropsies will be conducted by State Veterinarian Dr. Mike Scott to determine the cause of death. The horses were transported to the state-run clinic
Kissimmee Diagnostic. Preliminary findings are expected late today or Tuesday.

A full-scale investigation by the U.S. Polo Association, the sport's governing body, is expected to open today.

Lechuza Caracas was scheduled to play a match at 3 p.m. Sunday.

The horses began breathing heavily and stumbling at the Lechuza Caracas facility before they were brought to the polo club, Swerdlin was told. Then, about 2:15 p.m., as members were preparing their horses for the match, two collapsed and several others began exhibiting dizziness and disorientation. Four of the animals died in a horse trailer used to transport them.

When the horses began getting sick and collapsing, stadium officials canceled the match between Lechuza Caracas and Black Watch. An exhibition match was played instead.

The U.S. Open, in its 105th year, is the oldest and most prestigious polo tournament in the United States. It culminates the end of the high-goal season at International Polo Club Palm Beach.

Team padrons, or player-sponsors, are known to bring out their best and most expensive strings of polo ponies, anywhere from six to eight ponies for each of a team's four players.

One or two horses have 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 horses' sickness was linked to contaminated feed.