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Polo horses' deaths expected to spark reform

The U.S. Polo Assn. says it will announce plans for additional protections for the animals. An Argentina newspaper reports that a lethal dose of selenium was behind the 21 deaths last weekend.

April 25, 2009|Missy Diaz

WELLINGTON, FLA. — In the wake of the deaths of 21 prized polo horses, the United States Polo Assn. says it will announce today plans to provide additional protections for its animals.

The announcement is expected after today's USPA Board of Governors meeting in Wellington. A spokeswoman for the organization did not provide any specifics of what is being considered, but there has been much discussion about the treatment of polo horses since the deaths last weekend.

Quoting anonymous sources, La Nacion newspaper of Argentina reported Friday that the 21 Lechuza Caracas team horses scheduled to play in last Sunday's polo match were injected with a lethal dose -- 10 times the intended amount -- of selenium, a trace mineral that is poisonous to horses in high doses. The newspaper reported that 0.5 mg/ml was prescribed but that the compound actually contained 5 mg/ml.

Selenium is essential to health in small amounts, according to the National Institutes of Health. It is found in soil, seafood and some meats.

Franck's Pharmacy in Ocala has acknowledged only "that a strength of an ingredient in the medication was incorrect."

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine and the Federal Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine declined to comment Friday, citing the continuing investigation.

Investigators said Thursday that they believed they had identified the chemical that caused the deaths but they declined Friday to disclose it.

It's unclear how the error occurred. The identity of the prescribing veterinarian has not been confirmed and the prescription has not been made public.

In a statement Thursday, the Lechuza team said a Florida-licensed veterinarian wrote a prescription for a compounded substitute vitamin supplement containing vitamin B, potassium, magnesium and selenium. "Only the horses treated with the compound became sick and died. . . . The horses that were not treated remain healthy and normal," it said.

The pharmacy's statement said that "on an order from a veterinarian, Franck's Pharmacy prepared medication that was used to treat the 21 horses."

The injectable compound was a substitute for Biodyl, the team said, a vitamin-mineral mix that isn't approved for use in the United States.

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mdiaz@sunsentinel.com

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