Tainted feed blamed for 4 horse deaths in Florida

AP News
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Posted: Dec 16, 2014 5:48 PM
Tainted feed blamed for 4 horse deaths in Florida

MIAMI (AP) — Eighteen poisoned horses are being treated to spa days in their Florida stables, with their young riders brushing their manes and tails, painting their hooves, feeding them hay and petting their noses.

There's nothing else anyone can do for the doomed horses at Masterpiece Equestrian Center in Davie.

A batch of feed tainted by additives safe for other livestock but toxic to horses arrived at the center in September, and all 22 horses there ate the feed for a month before anyone realized something was wrong.

Three horses died in October, and a fourth was euthanized Monday. The rest will die, some possibly as soon as this week.

"There's very little to do other than keep them hydrated, giving them lots of hay, giving them lots of comfort, brushing them, giving them attention and love and baths — it makes the horses happy to be attended to," said Debra Buis of Weston, whose two horses Don Tavia and Ultimatum are among the afflicted. Buis' two teenage daughters, one of whom wears her horse's nickname "Tavi" on a necklace, have aspirations to be elite equestrians.

"It's really quite hopeless, to be honest with you," Buis said Tuesday. "It is hopeless and there are no words."

The first horse died Oct. 15, dragging its back feet and collapsing as it tried to stand. Everyone thought it was colic, a relatively common disorder of a horse's digestive system, Buis said.

Then a second horse suffered similar symptoms and died two days later, and a third horse quickly followed. Necropsies and testing of the horses' feed confirmed monensin poisoning.

Monensin is an antibiotic added to feed for cattle and some poultry to help with growth, but it's toxic to horses' muscles, particularly their hearts, said Serena Craft of the University of Florida Veterinary Diagnostic Lab.

Since October, the horses' owners have sought to keep their animals comfortable and prepare for the inevitable. All riding lessons have been replaced by vigils kept over weakening horses.

Some parents of young riders tried to shield their children from the tragedy slowly unfolding, telling them that the horses were getting ready to retire, Buis said. But the death Monday of Foxy, a pony used for riding lessons for many children, was a reminder that more losses are coming.

The Lakeland-based company that sold the feed to Masterpiece has recalled the product, stopped producing equine feeds and acknowledged that feed delivered to the center contained monensin and lasalocid, another anti-bacterial additive toxic to horses.

Lakeland Animal Nutrition believes the contamination was limited to the feed at Masterpiece, and no other horses elsewhere have been reported ill, general manager Jonathan Lang said in an email.

"Care of the animal and our customers' trust are paramount to us, and we are committed to working with the Masterpiece Equestrian family to bring restoration in the midst of their tragic losses," Lang wrote.

Florida's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is investigating.

The company has been urged to compensate the owners before Christmas, as Masterpiece and the owners of 20 horses consider filing a lawsuit, said the attorney representing them, Andy Yaffa.

The horses ranged from ponies worth $25,000 to $50,000 to elite competitors worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, Yaffa said. Some of the owners have life insurance policies on their horses.

"This has completely stopped my life and my business, and I just want them to make it right so I can move forward," said Danica Pryce, whose parents own the center.

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Follow Jennifer Kay on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jnkay.