Flowers are shown at a makeshift memorial outside of Lechuza Caracas Inc. Monday, April 20, 2009, in Wellington Fla. The horses from the Venezuelan-owned team Lechuza Caracas sickened just before a tournament Sunday, collapsing and dying on the scene or while being treated at vet clinics or transported, officials said. (AP Photo/Steve Mitchell)
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Florida's top veterinarian on
Tuesday blamed the deaths of 21 elite polo horses on an overdose of
a common mineral that helps muscles recover from fatigue.
Florida's state veterinarian, Dr. Thomas J. Holt, said
toxicology tests on the dead horses showed significantly increased
The horses from the Venezuelan-owned Lechuza Caracas team began
collapsing April 19 as they were unloaded from trailers at the
International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington before a
championship match. Some died at the scene, others hours later.
"Signs exhibited by the horses and their rapid deaths were
consistent with toxic doses of selenium," Holt said.
The team was preparing to play in the sport's U.S. Open and was
seen as a top contender.
A Florida pharmacy that mixed a brew of vitamins and minerals
for the team on order from its Florida veterinarian said Tuesday
that the strength of selenium was incorrect. Jennifer Beckett,
chief operating officer for Franck's Pharmacy in Ocala, Fla., would
not say whether the incorrect amount was specified in the
veterinarian order or was a pharmacy error.
"We continue to cooperate fully with the authorities as their
investigations proceed," she said. "We cannot discuss further
Lechuza had no comment on the toxicology report.
The polo team had hoped to get a compound similar to a
name-brand supplement known as Biodyl. The supplement is used
around the world but hasn't been approved by the Food and Drug
Administration in the U.S.
Veterinarians often turn to compounding pharmacies like Franck's
for medications that can't be found on shelves, but the
dispensaries generally can only recreate unapproved drugs in
limited circumstances, such as for health reasons.
The FDA and state authorities are investigating.
Biodyl is a supplement made in France by Duluth, Ga.-based
animal pharmaceutical firm Merial Ltd. It wasn't clear how close
Franck's mixture came to the name-brand drug. Lechuza said what
they ordered was supposed to contain vitamin B, potassium,
magnesium and selenium.
The injections provided by Franck's were given to the horses
just hours before their deaths.
Dr. Murl Bailey, a toxicology professor at Texas A&M
University's College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences,
said selenium is a common mineral needed in small doses by humans
and animals for growth and tissue stabilization. It can also help
muscles recover from fatigue.
"It's a naturally occurring mineral in the Earth's crust,"
Bailey said. But he said it was generally not needed as a
supplement since most people and animals get it in their food.
Bailey said an overdose of selenium can cause the veins in the
body to dilate, "so there's really no blood coming back to the
"The horses go into shock," he said.
Necropsies previously revealed bleeding in the horses' lungs.
Dr. Tam Garland, division head of the toxicology and drug
testing section at Texas A&M's Veterinary Medical Diagnostic
Laboratory, said the horses' deaths would likely have been painful,
and irreversible after the overdose.
"Hemorrhaging in the lungs tells me these horses couldn't
breathe," Garland said.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)