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Subject: 21 Polo Ponies Die After Given A Drug

Written By: CatwomanofV on 04/24/09 at 2:05 pm

I don't follow polo but I read this in today's paper and it was just so sad.

Poison Suspected in Deaths of Polo Horses

WELLINGTON, Fla. — The Lechuza Caracas farm is set off from the road by a giant hedge, and through bare patches, one could see at least 10 horses, their tails flicking as they grazed in a field, in a tableau of normalcy that no longer exists.

On Monday, the deaths of 21 polo horses from Lechuza Caracas, a Venezuelan-based team, were being mourned. The team was preparing to compete in a quarterfinal match of the United States Open Polo Championship on Sunday when a few of its horses collapsed at the International Polo Club Palm Beach. As they were being tended to, several other horses became disoriented and collapsed in a dominolike chain.

By Sunday night, 15 horses were dead. Six others died overnight. In a few frantic hours, Lechuza Caracas’s most treasured performers had been lost. In the world of polo, the riders are considered less valuable. Some horses belonged to the owner of Lechuza Caracas, the Venezuelan multimillionaire Victor Vargas, and some were owned by the team’s individual riders.

Peter Rizzo, the executive director of the United States Polo Association, said that his organization opened an investigation Monday as state agriculture scientists in Kissimmee began performing necropsies on eight carcasses.

“We’re still reeling from this,” Rizzo said in a telephone interview. “I cannot even process the horror from yesterday.”

He added that veterinarians who treated the animals said they believed the blame lies with a toxin that all the horses consumed. An examination of the tissues, organs and blood of the dead animals should reveal whether the toxins were ingested or injected.

The veterinarian Paul Wollenman of the Palm Beach Equine Clinic, said in a statement, “We do know that based on overwhelming clinical evidence, this event was isolated to the Lechuza barn horses and the initial evidence shows no infectious element.”

At the Lechuza Caracas horse farm here, a makeshift memorial composed of bouquets of roses and perennials took shape at the foot of the keypad outside the front gates. Rizzo, who has been in contact with Vargas, said, “He definitely is in shock and mourning.”

The Lechuza Polo team said in a statement: “For the last three decades, Lechuza Polo has participated in polo championships and tournaments all around the globe. In that time, we have not encountered such a dire situation like this as our horses receive the most professional and dedicated care possible.”

Spectators at the competition described a surreal scene: blue tarps popped up on the field as team officials tended to fallen horses, and veterinarians raced from the stands to form a triage unit to help the wobbly animals. Each of the horses was 10 or 11 years old and worth about $100,000.

“I’ve been playing polo for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Nacho Figueras, a rider for Black Watch, the team that was to oppose Lechuza Caracas. “The horses started collapsing. It was really a bad scene. Me and the other riders went and helped all the grooms. There were 20 vets on site and they were all trying to help.”

The horses began becoming ill 45 minutes before the scheduled start of the match. Several minutes later, officials announced that the match had been canceled and an exhibition match featuring the Black Watch team would be held instead.

The Lechuza Caracas team withdrew from the competition. The other players and club representatives have opted to continue with the event as a way of honoring the Lechuza horses. The semifinals will be held, as scheduled, on Wednesday.

John Wash, the president of club operations at International Polo, said in a statement, “We continue to stay in contact with everyone touched by this event and share in their grief.”

Here is a follow-up.

A Florida pharmacy acknowledged Thursday that it had incorrectly mixed a medication given to the 21 polo horses that died Sunday at the United States Open Polo Championship, even as state and federal authorities waited for the results of a toxicology test that would determine the cause of the horses’ deaths.

An official at Franck’s Pharmacy in Ocala, Fla., said a medication given to 21 horses was mixed incorrectly.

Jennifer Beckett, the chief operations officer of Franck’s Pharmacy in Ocala, Fla., said in a statement that the strength of an ingredient in a medication mixed at the request of a veterinarian was incorrect, and that the pharmacy had notified the state’s health department.

Although Beckett did not name the ingredient or the medicine, a statement released to The Associated Press on Thursday by the polo team, Lechuza Caracas, indicated that a team veterinarian had ordered a vitamin mixture similar to Biodyl, a supplement that is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Despite the revelations Thursday, a spokeswoman for Florida’s Department of Agriculture said investigators had not identified a cause of death and were awaiting the results of a toxicology test. Spokeswomen for the F.D.A. and the Florida Department of Health declined to comment, saying the investigation had not been completed.

The deaths of so many horses in a single day has cast a pall over the Open, which resumed Thursday in Wellington, Fla. Riders observed a moment of silence before playing two semifinal matches.

Franck’s Pharmacy is a compounding pharmacy that serves human and veterinary patients in the heart of Florida’s horse country. There is no history of complaints or discipline listed on the Florida Department of Health’s Web site.

In the statement, Beckett extended condolences to the polo team and the horses’ owners. “We share their grief and sadness,” she said.

The incident is likely to renew questions about the safety of compound pharmacies, which are sometimes used by veterinarians to mix hard-to-find drugs or to add horse-friendly flavors to medications, said Scott E. Palmer, a veterinarian who is the hospital director of the New Jersey Equine Clinic.

“It’s of course a concern for any health professional,” he said. “You want to believe that it’s well prepared and it’s safe.”

In 2005, a group of racehorse owners sued a New Jersey compounding pharmacy, claiming it had incorrectly mixed a product that led to the death of three horses and the serious injury of another. The case was settled in 2007 after testing concluded that the medicine’s potency was mixed at the level that had been advertised.

Palmer said that although he had heard of Biodyl, it is not commonly used in the United States because it is not approved for use here. Compounding pharmacies are prohibited from replicating drugs that are banned in the United States.

Biodyl, a mixture of vitamin B12, selenium and other minerals, has been used for decades in Europe and Latin America and is manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Merial. Steve Dickinson, a Merial spokesman, said that the drug is used to treat muscle fatigue and exhaustion in horses and other animals, and that the company has documented only one adverse reaction in more than two million doses.

The horses on the Lechuza Caracas team were routinely given doses of Biodyl-type supplements before polo matches, according to a person affiliated with the team who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The horses who died were injected with the drug on Sunday morning, four hours before their match was to begin, the person said, and a team vet immediately suspected that the supplement was the culprit.

Karen Crouse contributed reporting from Wellington, Fla.


Subject: Re: 21 Polo Ponies Die After Given A Drug

Written By: anabel on 04/24/09 at 7:48 pm

So sad!!!  :\'(  I had heard at first that they were considering it was done for insurance money, but now it sounds like it was just an accident?  I feel sorry for the one responsible for that.

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