Polo tragedy | TSLN.com

Polo tragedy

The horse world was kicked in the belly pretty hard by news breaking from the ritzy Wellington Polo Club in Palm Beach County, Florida on April 20th as more than a dozen well-bred, highly-trained Thoroughbreds had suddenly dropped dead and were continuing to drop. The latest information as I write this on April 22nd is that 21 horses ultimately died, possibly from a vitamin called Biodyl, administered by the Venezuelan team Lechuza Caracas “not for performance enhancement, but to help the horses recover from the wear and tear of a polo match.”

Top Lechuza player Juan Martin Nero told the Argentine newspaper La Nacion that the horses had received their usual dose of Biodyl, a drug not approved in the US. He further said, “We have no doubt about the origin of the problem… There were five horses that were not given the vitamin and they’re the only ones that are fine.”

According to an article by Brian Haas and Missy Diaz in the Miami Sun Sentinel, Dr. John Harvey, executive associate dean at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said the university is screening the horse’s tissues and blood for a wide range of substances, but that the normal components in Biodyl shouldn’t have been fatal. Results were expected by Friday the 24th.

“If it’s done properly, I don’t think it’s going to kill a horse,” Harvey said. “On the other hand if someone added stuff or made it improperly… those would be the concerns I would have.”

Nero hinted at that possibility, saying he thought the dose given to the horses Sunday was typical, but whoever produced the drug may have made a mistake. “For us, the suspicions are that there was something bad at the laboratory,” he said.

The substance is produced by a Merial company in France, which has not yet responded to messages left for comment. Biodyl, commonly used on show horses and in competition in Europe, is designed for recovery, for fighting fatigue, for certain sicknesses, and is also used in conditioning racehorses, according to the drug’s fact sheet.

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The article says, “While Biodyl is not approved for use in the United States, the drug’s individual ingredients can be purchased at veterinary markets and pharmacists can also make it at the request of a veterinarian, according to Wellington veterinarian Dr. Ben Schachter, who does not use the drug or any formulation of it, but says, ‘The drug itself should not be harmful to a horse if mixed properly and given in the proper amount.'”

Wellington vet Dr. Rob Boswell said, “Speculating on what killed the 21 polo ponies is moot since toxicology tests will determine the cause soon enough,” adding that Lechuza Caracas is an experienced team and administers the drug to help their horses recover from strenuous exercise.

Newser online said colleagues of wealthy Venezuelan banker and polo team owner Victor Vargas reported he was “devastated” – rushing from animal to animal as 21 suddenly collapsed shortly before a Palm Beach polo tournament Sunday, cradling the heads of his fallen horses and sobbing as they died in his arms. Each was valued at $50,000 or upward.

The president of the polo club that hosted the US Open tournament said on Tuesday, “In polo’s history there’s never been an incident like this that anybody can remember. This was a tragic issue, on the magnitude of losing a basketball team in an airplane crash.”

Beyond shock at the tragedy and sympathy for the owners, riders and everyone involved, we need to take this as a serious warning about drugs and our horses. This is proof a laboratory mixup can be deadly, even when we’re dealing with ‘vitamins.’ Don’t use drugs from unproven or unknown labs – no matter how much cheaper they are. And the bottom line is – as I practice personally and think all parents should practice with their children – if you don’t use drugs, if you don’t introduce foreign substances into your diet, your kids’ diet or your horses’ diet, you aren’t running this kind of risk.

Whatever happened to good water, plain feed and exercise… good water, plain hay and grain and exercise… plenty of exercise… as the best way to condition your horse – for racing, polo, rodeo, endurance riding or rigorous ranch work? Horses used to work far harder than they ever do today… and they were strong and healthy and gave optimal performance on good water, plain hay and grain and liberal exercise.

On to happier topics… a New York City-based television production company is currently casting and developing what they term “an exciting new documentary series about young people involved in the rodeo/equestrian world.” They say, “The series will highlight the challenges and rewards of the high school, amateur, or professional rodeo/equestrian circuit, as well as what happens outside the arena, including school, work, sports and social life. We are interested in hearing from teenagers and young adults who train and compete in English and/or Western riding or any other rodeo events. We are also looking for compelling stories from young people involved in ranch life in general (e.g. raising bucking bulls, breaking colts, wrangling mustangs, etc.).”

Becky Hayes, casting producer for the production company Left/Right, wrote to some of our readers who forwarded the information to me. I hope some of our young readers will contact Becky, who says they are “a nonfiction television production company that specializes in telling real stories about extraordinary people.” She also says they would “love to hear from anyone aged 15-24 years… who would like to be considered for the show.” For more information, contact rhayes@leftright.tv.

Speaking of stars and such, I hope you all had opportunity to see and hear Susan Boyle this last week or so. That middle-aged Scotswoman has very bravely proven you can’t judge a book by its cover… and rodeo’s own Ty Murray has joined her in underlining and putting an exclamation mark at the end of that statement. Susan Boyle can open her mouth and sing like the very angels… and that ol’ bowlegged cowboy can jump up on a stage and really dance! Congratulations to both of them.

I’d like to wedge in one more tip of our ol’ Tri-State Stetson before this column closes – we all realize the importance of good bloodlines for performance, and the Cooper family line has come thru again as Pro-Rodeo Hall of Famer and World All Around champ Jimmy Cooper’s 24-year-old twin sons Jake and Jim Ross of Monument, NM won the Mike Cervi, Jr. Memorial Team Roping at Tucson. Their uncle Clay O’Brien Cooper managed to come in second, right behind them. Grandpa Tuffy Cooper is a great friend of ours and we extend congratulations to the whole clan – unquestionably great cowboys!

Looks like that’s the end of our ol’ lariat rope once more…

The horse world was kicked in the belly pretty hard by news breaking from the ritzy Wellington Polo Club in Palm Beach County, Florida on April 20th as more than a dozen well-bred, highly-trained Thoroughbreds had suddenly dropped dead and were continuing to drop. The latest information as I write this on April 22nd is that 21 horses ultimately died, possibly from a vitamin called Biodyl, administered by the Venezuelan team Lechuza Caracas “not for performance enhancement, but to help the horses recover from the wear and tear of a polo match.”

Top Lechuza player Juan Martin Nero told the Argentine newspaper La Nacion that the horses had received their usual dose of Biodyl, a drug not approved in the US. He further said, “We have no doubt about the origin of the problem… There were five horses that were not given the vitamin and they’re the only ones that are fine.”

According to an article by Brian Haas and Missy Diaz in the Miami Sun Sentinel, Dr. John Harvey, executive associate dean at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said the university is screening the horse’s tissues and blood for a wide range of substances, but that the normal components in Biodyl shouldn’t have been fatal. Results were expected by Friday the 24th.

“If it’s done properly, I don’t think it’s going to kill a horse,” Harvey said. “On the other hand if someone added stuff or made it improperly… those would be the concerns I would have.”

Nero hinted at that possibility, saying he thought the dose given to the horses Sunday was typical, but whoever produced the drug may have made a mistake. “For us, the suspicions are that there was something bad at the laboratory,” he said.

The substance is produced by a Merial company in France, which has not yet responded to messages left for comment. Biodyl, commonly used on show horses and in competition in Europe, is designed for recovery, for fighting fatigue, for certain sicknesses, and is also used in conditioning racehorses, according to the drug’s fact sheet.

The article says, “While Biodyl is not approved for use in the United States, the drug’s individual ingredients can be purchased at veterinary markets and pharmacists can also make it at the request of a veterinarian, according to Wellington veterinarian Dr. Ben Schachter, who does not use the drug or any formulation of it, but says, ‘The drug itself should not be harmful to a horse if mixed properly and given in the proper amount.'”

Wellington vet Dr. Rob Boswell said, “Speculating on what killed the 21 polo ponies is moot since toxicology tests will determine the cause soon enough,” adding that Lechuza Caracas is an experienced team and administers the drug to help their horses recover from strenuous exercise.

Newser online said colleagues of wealthy Venezuelan banker and polo team owner Victor Vargas reported he was “devastated” – rushing from animal to animal as 21 suddenly collapsed shortly before a Palm Beach polo tournament Sunday, cradling the heads of his fallen horses and sobbing as they died in his arms. Each was valued at $50,000 or upward.

The president of the polo club that hosted the US Open tournament said on Tuesday, “In polo’s history there’s never been an incident like this that anybody can remember. This was a tragic issue, on the magnitude of losing a basketball team in an airplane crash.”

Beyond shock at the tragedy and sympathy for the owners, riders and everyone involved, we need to take this as a serious warning about drugs and our horses. This is proof a laboratory mixup can be deadly, even when we’re dealing with ‘vitamins.’ Don’t use drugs from unproven or unknown labs – no matter how much cheaper they are. And the bottom line is – as I practice personally and think all parents should practice with their children – if you don’t use drugs, if you don’t introduce foreign substances into your diet, your kids’ diet or your horses’ diet, you aren’t running this kind of risk.

Whatever happened to good water, plain feed and exercise… good water, plain hay and grain and exercise… plenty of exercise… as the best way to condition your horse – for racing, polo, rodeo, endurance riding or rigorous ranch work? Horses used to work far harder than they ever do today… and they were strong and healthy and gave optimal performance on good water, plain hay and grain and liberal exercise.

On to happier topics… a New York City-based television production company is currently casting and developing what they term “an exciting new documentary series about young people involved in the rodeo/equestrian world.” They say, “The series will highlight the challenges and rewards of the high school, amateur, or professional rodeo/equestrian circuit, as well as what happens outside the arena, including school, work, sports and social life. We are interested in hearing from teenagers and young adults who train and compete in English and/or Western riding or any other rodeo events. We are also looking for compelling stories from young people involved in ranch life in general (e.g. raising bucking bulls, breaking colts, wrangling mustangs, etc.).”

Becky Hayes, casting producer for the production company Left/Right, wrote to some of our readers who forwarded the information to me. I hope some of our young readers will contact Becky, who says they are “a nonfiction television production company that specializes in telling real stories about extraordinary people.” She also says they would “love to hear from anyone aged 15-24 years… who would like to be considered for the show.” For more information, contact rhayes@leftright.tv.

Speaking of stars and such, I hope you all had opportunity to see and hear Susan Boyle this last week or so. That middle-aged Scotswoman has very bravely proven you can’t judge a book by its cover… and rodeo’s own Ty Murray has joined her in underlining and putting an exclamation mark at the end of that statement. Susan Boyle can open her mouth and sing like the very angels… and that ol’ bowlegged cowboy can jump up on a stage and really dance! Congratulations to both of them.

I’d like to wedge in one more tip of our ol’ Tri-State Stetson before this column closes – we all realize the importance of good bloodlines for performance, and the Cooper family line has come thru again as Pro-Rodeo Hall of Famer and World All Around champ Jimmy Cooper’s 24-year-old twin sons Jake and Jim Ross of Monument, NM won the Mike Cervi, Jr. Memorial Team Roping at Tucson. Their uncle Clay O’Brien Cooper managed to come in second, right behind them. Grandpa Tuffy Cooper is a great friend of ours and we extend congratulations to the whole clan – unquestionably great cowboys!

Looks like that’s the end of our ol’ lariat rope once more…