This information was released this afternoon by the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Sciences:
TALLAHASSEE — Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson has launched an investigation into the deaths of 21 horses that collapsed after arriving in Wellington, Florida, for a polo match. Initially, 14 horses died by Sunday evening and an additional seven died overnight.
Because of the very rapid onset of sickness and death, state officials suspect these deaths were a result of an adverse drug reaction or toxicity. At this time there is no evidence that these horses were affected with an infectious or contagious disease as there are no other horses affected at this time.
The department’s Division of Animal Industry, headed up by the State Veterinarian, is involved in the investigation. The department’s Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement is also participating and working with local law enforcement.
The horses have been transported to a Department of Agriculture laboratory in Kissimmee and to the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine for necropsies and toxicology testing. It could take several days before any test results are in or a cause of death is known.
“Obviously, this is a tragic situation and we are working hard to determine what happened,” Bronson said. “But it would be irresponsible to speculate on what may have killed the horses. We will wait until the facts are in before making any specific comments on the case.”
The horses were part of a team from Caracas, Venezuela, scheduled to play Sunday in match at the U.S. Open Polo Championship in Palm Beach County. The Lechuza Caracas team had been kept at the team’s complex near the polo stadium. The horses were reportedly not showing any signs of illness as of Sunday morning. When the horses were offloaded at the event, some of the animals were dead and the remaining animals were showing severe symptoms of depression, respiratory problems, poor coordination, and recumbency. Despite treatment by veterinarians on site, these animals also died within a brief period of time.
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services officials will wait until test results are available before determining the next step in the investigation.