Palm Beach Police Probe Deaths Of 21 Polo Ponies

In a terrible shock to equestrian sports since the Eight Belles tragedy, 21 horses that were brought from Venezuela to Florida for a polo tournament suddenly collapsed & soon died - 14 by Sunday evening, and 7 more by Monday morning.

Dead polo horse

And officials & police are trying to figure out what killed the horses of the Lechuza Caracas polo team. Theories have ranged from poisoned medication to deadly viruses - and even the possibility of steroid abuse.

The PALM BEACH POST reports that the U.S. Polo Organization & Florida Department of Agriculture have launched investigations into the mysterious horse deaths. And now their efforts have been boosted with further investigative help from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office.

Six of the horses have been taken to Kissimmee while the other 15 have been sent to the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Gainesville for examination. Although results won’t be known for a few days, pathologists believe the horses were possibly all poisoned by some sort of toxin. The question is if it was just a horrible accident, or if any poisoning was done purposefully:

At the Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab In Kissimmee, pathologist Teri Johnson said it’s too early to determine if the toxins were deliberately inserted into the horses, but considering how quickly the horses died, she likely ruled out any sort of virus.

“I don’t know if we would be able to identify whether it was deliberate vs. non-deliberate when looking for a toxin or poison,” Johnson said.

Some may believe that steroids could’ve been the cause of the sudden deaths:

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.

But others are aghast such an explanation would be offered:

The horses, all from the same team, died one by one, “almost certainly of an intoxication of some sort that they consumed,” said Lechuza Caracas team veterinarian James Belden, a local vet who was among those pumping intravenous fluids into the horses, trying to save them. Belden doesn’t travel with the team but said he does not believe the horses were given anabolic steroids because the team competes in England, where such drugs are prohibited.

“Almost certainly they don’t use anabolic steroids,” Belden said.

Even if steroids have been ruled out of the equine-killing equation, will this be a wake-up call that yet another sport needs to undergo drug testing?

Probably not:

The U.S. Polo Association does not require drug testing of horses. “There is no drug testing required because polo has always been a gentlemen’s game. Polo has always been about the glory of the game, and not the money,” said Scott Swerdlin, a member of the Palm Beach Equine Clinic.

(Because polo’s only played by rich people who don’t need the money.)

Still, the fact of the matter is that 21 magnificent creatures suddenly passed away without any warning. Even if you’re not a fan of polo, it’s always sad when so many innocent animals end up dead in such a short time.