Early on the morning of May 26, Kristen Williams and her daughter, Katie, arrived at a barn on the grounds of the Devon Horse Show, where elite competitors in full dress have entertained spectators for the last century on Philadelphia’s Main Line.
Ms. Williams had paid thousands of dollars to lease a pony for Katie to ride in a hunter competition, a 12th birthday present. Soon after arriving, their trainer left to administer an injection to a nearby pony, Humble, that Katie’s friend, also celebrating her 12th birthday, was scheduled to ride shortly.
Moments later, with Ms. Williams and her daughter watching, Humble collapsed and died. The death of a supposedly fit pony about to carry a young rider over hurdles was worrisome by itself, but circumstances surrounding the death made it even more so.
In the three days before Humble died, he had been scheduled to receive 15 separate drug treatments, including anti-inflammatories, corticosteroids, and muscle relaxants, according to his medication chart.
“The average horse that walks in my clinic here doesn’t get anything like that,” said Dr. Kent Allen, chairman of both the veterinary and the drugs and medications committees of the United States Equestrian Federation, the sport’s nonprofit governing body. “It gets a diagnosis and then gets a very specific, appropriate treatment.”
Read the full investigative report on drugs in the horse show industry at The New York Times.
A version of this article appeared in print on December 28, 2012, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Sudden Death of Show Pony Clouds Image of Elite Pursuit.