By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog.
The story continues to unfold in the case of those 21 so-called polo ponies (adult polo is usually played on horses, but they're referred to as ponies) and the details point to the unmasking of a dirty little secret in many horse sports.
An internal investigation by Franck's Pharmacy in Ocala, Florida, "concluded that the strength of an ingredient in the medication was incorrect. We will cooperate fully with the authorities as they continue their investigations," the company said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.
The horses collapsed one after another in front of spectators at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida, while being prepared for a tournament Sunday. Most were dead within an hour. Post-mortem examinations done by a University of Florida laboratory found significant hemorrhaging in several horses, but the findings did not single out a specific cause.
The Jockey Club regulates thoroughbred racing, and earlier this year announced the formation of a consortium to study and regulate the drugging of horses:
The Jockey Club's Thoroughbred Safety Committee (TSC) announced today that it will fund a Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) frozen sample and retrospective testing program that will begin in April. This program is part of the drug testing initiative that evolved from a TSC recommendation announced at The Jockey Club's Round Table Conference last August.
"The purpose of this program is to act as a deterrent to the use of illegal drugs or prohibited medications in racehorses competing in the United States," said Stuart S. Janney III, chairman of the Thoroughbred Safety Committee. "The testing of these samples may result in positive test results, which can then be used as probable cause for the future collection of test samples from racehorses with the same owner, trainer or attending veterinarian."
But horse regulatory groups should ban the drugging of horses in competition, just as performance-enhancing drugs are banned for humans (steroids, etc.) when they compete at the highest levels. Whatever drugs the Venezuelan horses were on were strong enough to kill them in a high dose. That means, most likely, they were pretty strong medications even if used in the proper doses. This case, as it unfolds, points to the need for a movement to ban all performance-enhancing drugs for horses (and other animals) now!