Vets Investigate Wellington Polo Pony Deaths

The sudden death of 21 polo horses in Florida may have been caused by a toxin that has yet to be identified by tests and could have been in the animals' feed, vitamins, or supplements, veterinarians said Monday.

The horses from the Venezuelan-owned team Lechuza Caracas became sick just before a tournament Sunday, collapsing and dying on the scene or while being treated at vet clinics or transported, officials said.

Scott Swerdlin, DVM, MRCVS, 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.

"A combination of something with an error in something that was given to these horses caused this toxic reaction," Swerdlin told reporters.

It may take days or weeks to get the results of toxicology tests that could identify the toxin, he said.

Another veterinarian who was at the scene said something triggered heart failure among the horses.

"Well clearly, it's an intoxication, clearly there's some sort of a poison," James Belden, DVM, told NBC's "Today Show."

The team is owned by Venezuelan businessman Victor Vargas but most of the horses and players are Argentine, Swerdlin said. The team travels most of the year.

Swerdlin said the team has up to 60 horses. All of those who fell sick have died, he said.

The carcasses of at least 14 horses were taken to a state agricultural laboratory for necropsies to learn the causes of their deaths.

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The Associated Press

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