Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Shock, Tears, Anger , answers elusive in horse deaths

When you live in a horse community area, you are affected by the wonderful animals, whether you have contact or not.

Please read on.

Click on title for link to story.

Equestrians, Wellington leaders stay hopeful


Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

WELLINGTON — Devastating as they are, the sudden deaths of 21 top-line horses on Sunday before the nation's premier polo tournament haven't provoked the nail-biting fear that shot through the village's horse community when equine herpes broke out here more than two years ago.

Nor is the tragedy expected to drag down the local economy or International Polo Club Palm Beach's season, this year or next, equestrians, business owners and other leaders said Tuesday. Nor has it affected the equally prestigious show-jumping world.

"Wellington will recover very quickly, and the polo season will be fine next year," Mayor Darell Bowen said. "I don't think there's anything widespread, or any conspiracy."

Even before authorities have identified the cause of Sunday's deaths, local leaders say the fatalities appear to be a one-time incident.

In contrast, the late 2006 equine herpes outbreak, which killed six horses statewide, put the equestrian community into a panic because the disease passes through the air and also can spread on shoes, clothes and hands.

The herpes infection ultimately was traced to five horses that had arrived in New York from Europe, along with three New York horses that joined the five in a shipment to Wellington and a ninth that was picked up in Maryland.

"That thing had us crazy," said Lou Cuthbertson, manager of the Tackeria, an equestrian shop. "We had foot baths in front of the store, hand sanitizers on the counter. You couldn't go from barn to barn.

"They weren't sure exactly where it came from," he said. "It paralyzed the community because it was a communicable disease."

But of the recent deaths, he said, "As sad as this is, nobody is in a panic."

The store supplies shampoo, medication and tack to Lechuza Caracas, the top-ranked team whose horses died just before the quarterfinals of the 105th U.S. Open Polo Championship.

Lechuza Caracas withdrew from the remainder of the competition, which continues through Sunday.

It's not clear whether the team will return next year, but participants fluctuate from year to year anyway, International Polo spokesman Tim O'Connor said.

"There are always other groups that will be looking at coming in or coming out," O'Connor said.

It's unlikely the mysterious deaths will cast a pall on International Polo or deter teams from coming in the future, said Graham Bray, polo manager for San Diego Polo Club.

"This was located in one barn," Bray said.

Despite the loss of Lechuza Caracas, the final U.S. Open competitions might draw even larger crowds than usual, local leaders and polo aficionados said.

"I don't think they'll be walking away at all," Wellington Vice Mayor Carmine Priore said. "It's a respect for the team, a showing of continued support for the sport."

But the deaths have put at least a few horse owners on edge. Frank Shulman, owner of the Grand Prix feed and supply store, said at least one of his clients is waiting until results of the horse necropsies and blood tests come back before buying more feed or hay. Shulman's store didn't supply Lechuza Caracas.

The clients "didn't know if they wanted to get anything from Wellington," he said.

Business didn't change at all for Red Barn Feed & Supply, said co-owner Beck Hyslop.

Luckily, the deaths happened at the end of the season, which eases any local economic blow.

"I don't expect any long-term economic consequences," said Dean Turney, executive director of the Wellington Equestrian Alliance.

Still, the upshot of Sunday's misfortune will become more clear after the toxicology reports come back, local leaders and those in the horse industry said.

"We don't know if this was accidental or hanky-panky," said Mason Phelps, a former professional rider who owns Phelps Media, a major equestrian public relations group.
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