Cardiopulmonary-Related Problems Cited in Horse Deaths at Florida Event

The sport of eventing lost two equine athletes during the cross-country phase of Red Hills Horse Trials CIC***-W in Tallahassee, Fla., on March 15. Jonathan Holling’s 1996 bay Irish Thoroughbred gelding Direct Merger, owned by Janet Olsen, collapsed and died on the CIC*** course. Missy Miller’s Connemara gelding Rowdy Boy fell while negotiating fence 17 on the Advanced course and died within moments. Necropsies performed on both horses at the University of Florida in Gainesville proved that both horses died of cardiopulmonary-related problems.

Specifically, Direct Merger suffered from a pulmonary embolism. This is a blockage of the pulmonary artery (or one of its branches), usually when a blood clot from a vein becomes dislodged from its site of formation and blocks the arterial blood supply of one of the lungs. There is no way to detect any predisposition to an aneurysm or embolism in horses, nor is there treatment in such cases.

In a statement following the tragedy Jonathan Holling commented that his family and Olsen "would like to thank the organizers and veterinary staff of the Red Hills horse trials for their quick response to the tragic events that occurred today. The accident was in no way related to a jump on course … I lost a great partner in Direct Merger today, and he will greatly missed."

Miller was quoted on the U.S. Eventing Association Web site after talking to individuals in the necropsy lab, "The accident had nothing to do with the fences, the course, or Rowdy Boy's fitness. He had a heart attack over the first part of the bounce into the water. When he fell he was already passing. It is nothing that could have been prevented and would have happened no matter what he was doing. Up until that point he was jumping incredible and felt amazing under me like he always did out on cross country. It is hard for me to believe this happened but knowing that it was nothing to do with the course or the jumps does help a little."

Both Miller and Holling were uninjured. However U.S. Olympic team member Darren Chiacchia suffered a fall on the preliminary course when his horse Baron Verdi flipped over. Chiacchia remains in critical condition in the hospital in Tallahassee. His family is posting regular updates at his Web site,

About the Author

Amber Heintzberger

Amber Heintzberger is a journalist, photographer and award-winning author of Beyond the Track: Retraining the Thoroughbred from Racehorse to Riding Horse (Trafalgar Publishing, 2008). She lives in New York City.

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