Monday, April 20, 2009

Too bad the horses couldn't just say no!

Unless you're living under a rock, you've heard all about the sudden death of 21 polo ponies yesterday in Wellington, Florida. Watch video. I was just watching the news and apparently rumor has it they had a reaction to tainted steroids administered by an Argentine vet not licensed to practice here.


I have been involved in polo, off and on, since high school. It is without a doubt my favorite equestrian sport and normally one thing I like about it is that there is a typically high standard of care. The horses are conditioned intelligently and kept very fit. Injuries are noticed and everybody except a handful of idiots lays horses off as needed and does not play them when they are not 100% sound. Stalls are clean, water is plentiful, leg wrapping is usually excellent. The polo world used to keep horses too thin - that has changed and today's polo ponies normally look very good - 4's and 5's instead of the 3's they used to be. Many polo ponies get chiropractic and massage and are treated like the expensive athletes they are. At the same time, few are kept in an unnatural way - it's still very normal for polo ponies to be run out in a herd to enjoy life, and most get half the year off of work, or at least 4-6 weeks spring and fall between the two seasons. Polo provides a great second career for the 15 hand failed racehorses the hunt/dressage world doesn't want and many of them play well into their twenties.


Around the early 90s, polo got a new problem. At the barn I was at, it came in the form of a South American player. He moved in with three horses - cute, good looking horses but very unpopular with the barn help. Entering their stall was like sticking your hand into a piranha tank. They all bit. The ears went back and they snaked out with lightening speed to try to get a piece of you. Very unhappy ponies.

Soon, I learned why. Mr. South America was injecting them with a steroid called Winstrol V. It made them bulk up - that's why they looked so good - but it also made them as mean as Simon Cowell on a bad day. My then-boyfriend wanted to do the same to our horses. He had a little 14.3 Appendix mare that just wasn't so tough, even though she was safe, consistent, and packed his kids around between games. I had noticed the steroid-attitude connection, and even though I wasn't then aware of the internal damage steroids cause, I put the kibosh on our horses getting anything more hardcore than bute.

Sadly, not every polo pony had a pushy girlfriend to stand up for their rights, and steroid use continued to spread. Everybody knows steroids have been used in racehorses and halter horses, but the problem exists in other disciplines as well.

More information about steroid use in horses:

"Colorado State University undertook a study beginning in late 1980 and used 48 yearling fillies. They were divided into three groups and one control group. Each group received different brands of anabolic steroids every three weeks; one group was given four times the proper dose, consistent with abusive practices...The fillies also became aggressive toward other horses and exhibited atypical, stallion like behavior. Each was observed teasing and mounting herd mates...The Vets recommended never giving anabolic steroids to mares. They also discovered that very young horses should never have them. Some young horses given anabolics to speed growth or enhance muscle definition, never reach full size and never become fertile. Martin Simensen, DVM, the official veterinarian of the United States Equestrian Team says, "I am very strongly opposed to the use of anabolic steroids in a young horse"."

Well, Martin, I am opposed to the use of anabolic steroids in ANY horse unless it is considered the only way to help recovery from an injury and is administered for a limited time for that purpose only.

So now we're hearing that tainted steroids killed these horses. You know, there's a way to avoid that problem. It's called DON'T DRUG UP YOUR HORSES TO WIN A FUCKING POLO GAME. Maybe you all should learn to play better so that your horses don't have to be supercharged - what happened to polo being a chess game on horseback, a game of strategy? I remember the days when the mark of a great polo player was how smart he played, saving the horse whenever possible. Now I see you idiots out there running like you're on crack, making dangerous plays and smashing your horses into each other like a bunch of rednecks in a demolition derby. It's ugly to watch. I don't enjoy watching it, and we've seen more injuries and deaths because of it, both to horses and humans.

FYI, the Lechuza Caracas team consists of team owner Victor Vargas and professional players Guille Aguero, Sapo Caset and Nicolas Espain. And there is plenty of information online about Mr. Vargas. Google him, you'll be reading all day! Let's just say I'm guessing honesty and fair play isn't his strong suit, in anything.

I hear the USPA is investigating. If it is proven that steroid (or other performance-enhancing-drug) injections caused these horses' deaths, I sincerely hope every last member of that polo team are banned from playing in America permanently. Polo, learn something from racing - the whole sport can and will be destroyed if you don't kick out the bad seeds. It's time to do some house-cleaning and start drug testing and doing random vet exams at matches. Polo ponies deserve the same protections as other high level equine athletes and it's time they had them.

(P.S. You guys will never be able to keep this shit quiet. What do you think your grooms talk about? Good luck getting a polo groom to sign a confidentiality agreement. Every one I've ever met talked nonstop about their boss's horse care or lack thereof. Polo is a very small world.)