A friendly polo match in Florida turned in an equine Jonestown on Sunday, when 21 horses suddenly dropped dead due to a mysterious "toxin" just as play was about to begin. Yikes.
The horses belonged to Lechuza Caracas, a team owned by a Venezuelan player, but made up of mostly Argentine players and animals that was in Palm Beach for the U.S. Open. As the horses were being unloaded from their trailers, two of them collapsed and then others became dizzy and disoriented and were rushed to various animal hospitals. At least seven died right on the field and the rest as they were being treated overnight.
Dr. Scott Swerdlin, a veterinarian at Palm Beach Equine Clinic near the polo grounds, treated one of the sick horses. He said it appeared the animals died of heart failure caused by some kind of toxin that could have been in tainted food, vitamins or supplements or some combination of all three that caused a toxic reaction.
It may take weeks before the actual toxin and its source are known, but doctors have already ruled out performance-enhancing "cocktails" or a problem with the horses' medicine. So either the team veterinarians screwed up something royal or international polo is the most cutthroat sport since ... well ... horse racing. All the matches have been canceled until Wednesday and Lechuza Caracas probably won't return at all since it's kind of hard to replace two dozen polo ponies on short notice. They may be rich, but not that rich.
Polo veterinarian: Tainted meds, performance drugs unlikely the culprit to 21 polo horses' deaths [Palm Beach Post]
Toxins blamed for deaths of 21 horses at polo match [Herald Tribune]
21 Horses Die Suddenly at Palm Beach Polo Match [ABC News]
A Day in the Life of a Wellington Polo Pony [Plum TV]