Friday, September 05, 2014

Ghost of WEGs Past: Jumper Presley Boy Euthanized Two Years After Colic-Related Laminitis

If a skilled novelist like Tami Hoag set out to pen an international suspense thriller about a jumper, I doubt a more compelling story could be imagined than the sad-but-true tale of Presley Boy. The timing, the cultures, and even the horse's name, suggesting the legendary but tragic American rock star, all fit together. 

And there's our old friend laminitis, right in the middle of it like the dastardly villain it is, to assure that a happy ending is not likely.

The Saudi Equestrian Team's Dutch Warmblood jumper stallion Presley Boy has been euthanized at the team's training headquarters in Belgium, two years after he developed severe laminitis as a complication of colic. The stallion became ill just weeks before he was expected to be named to the 2012 Saudi Arabian Olympic show jumping team with his rider Abdullaziz (Khaled) Al Eid.

Here's a rough timeline of this horse's dramatic international life since the last World Equestrian Games.

It is ironic that the stallion's death came on the eve of the 2014 World Equestrian Games. Presley Boy was purchased from Mexican rider Jamie Azcarraga shortly before the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky as a mount for the Sydney 2000 Olympic individual bronze show jumping medalist Khaled Al Eid.

Presley Boy was highly regarded and considered a good bet to carry his next owner to the London Olympics. He had already won at Gijon, Arezzo, Monterrey, Madrid, Spruce Meadows, Wellington, Mannheim, Guangzhou, St Gallen, Aachen, Abu Dhabi and Doha. He knew his way around the world.

Presley Boy jumped well in Kentucky under his new rider, finishing 12th, and they continued to excel at the international level until the spring of 2012, when the Saudi team was gearing up for the Olympics in September.

A scandal erupted in show jumping when two Saudi horses tested positive for the prohibited medication Bute. On May 23, 2012, Khaled Al Eid and another rider were suspended for eight months from FEI competition. It looked like Presley Boy would spend the Olympics--and the rest of 2012--on vacation, although the violation was found in another of Khaled Al Eid's horses, not Presley Boy.

But in a remarkable turn of events, on June 11 a Court of Arbitration for Sport decision reduced the Saudi riders' penalty time to two months, making it possible for them to compete in the Olympics. According to the media release, the arbitrator considered the offense to be minor and so reduced the penalty.  Was Presley Boy once again headed for the Olympics?

But then...

"On the morning of Thursday July 5, 2012, Presley Boy was exercised by Khaled at the Saudi Equestrian stables, Haras de Wisbecq in Belgium," the Saudi Equestrian Team wrote in an announcement. "At the end of the session, the horse was in excellent condition and was being prepared for his next show."

"During the night of 5th July, Presley Boy began showing symptoms of being unwell," the statement continued, "and in the early hours of 6th July he was diagnosed with subacute colic with endotoxemia, which was followed by an acute phase of laminitis. 

"Presley Boy was immediately transferred to an equine hospital nearby, where he is currently in intensive care and being monitored around the clock."

On July 9th, Saudi Arabia released the names of the showjumping team it would send to London. Neither Khaled Al Eid nor Presley Boy was on the list.

In September, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia won the Bronze Team Medal in Show Jumping in London. No news from Belgium about Presley Boy, though.

On November 5th, Khalen Al Eid posted simply, "Presley Boy no longer in competition".

There would be no news after that, at least that is accessible in English on the Internet. And then in February 2014--more than 18 months after he was taken ill--Saudi Equestrian announced that he would be available for stud duty, presumably by artificial insemination. This sounded encouraging.

Six months later, Presley Boy is dead.

Sometimes, things don't go according to the script.

It is the custom of Saudi rider Khaled Al Eid (and some other riders of the Muslim faith) to recite a few verses of the Koran or offer a prayer after completing a showjumping round before leaving the arena. A photo of Khaled doing this brought the 2010 World Equestrian Games to the front pages of newspapers across the USA. The horse's tremendous athletic talent did not make the news, nor did his tragic death from laminitis. (FEI file photo by Dirk Caremans)

How time flies. Four years ago, the World Equestrian Games weren't half a world away in Europe. They were in Kentucky. And so was I.

I walked into the Starbucks in Georgetown, outside Lexington, early one morning and saw the newspaper photo. It was the end of the Games but this one little happening in the Alltech Arena had Lexington talking and Starbucks buzzing.

In the photo, Saudi show jumping rider Khaled Al Eid was circling the arena after finishing his round the night before at the Kentucky Horse Park. He had dropped the reins of his big horse, lifted his hands, and made a quick prayer to Allah.

Click. Looking at the picture, I could almost hear all the camera motor drives that must have been going off.

While others around me in Starbucks were sorting out the cultural and religious implications that go with the "world" part of hosting the World Equestrian Games, I was staring at the horse. What a horse.

Weeks later, it became clear that Khaled Al Eid was the poster boy of the World Equestrian Games. The photo of him simply lifting his hands to pray to Allah from the back of Presley Boy was in newspapers from coast to coast. However, it was not published because the editors thought the World Equestrian Games deserved publicity or that Presley Boy was a great jumper or Khaled a great rider. It was published for no other reason than a Muslim athlete dared to demonstrate his faith in public at a major sporting event in the USA. And that was news.

And yet the news of great horse after great horse dying from laminitis is little more than a footnote in the horse media, occasionally a line or two in the sports pages.

As we sit here watching laminitis research continue to focus on preventing this type of catastrophic collapse, it's possible to wince and say that Presley Boy may have died not because he had to but because his timing may have been just unbelievably bad. Perhaps he just ran out of time, the one thing that money can't buy.

We just don't know how to absolutely prevent or manage severe septic laminitis in 100 percent of endotoxemia cases. Or what we do know about preventing it hasn't been fine-tuned. Or the word just hasn't gotten out to veterinarians everywhere. Or it doesn't always work.

In 1971, as the war in Viet Nam raged, now-Secretary of State John Kerry asked a Congressional committee, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

How long can we go on apologizing for euthanizing horses like Presley Boy for not being able to cure or prevent laminitis when we know that their medical condition puts them at high risk? The successful management of horses like Paynter and others shows us that it can be done.

Why do people continue to invest millions in breeding and buying replacement horses, but not in doing something to prevent laminitis in the horses we already have?

Next month or next year or the one after, it may be very different. The entire horse world will owe an apology to the horses whose laminitis could have been prevented, if we'd only had the research money sooner, the laboratory expertise and access quicker, and collaboration had been easier to accomplish.

Can you help to make it happen? Can you speed up the process?

Some recommended laminitis funding sources are listed here; find out in advance if can specify that your donation goes directly to laminitis research and what percent actually goes to laminitis research:

  • Animal Health Foundation (funds laminitis only, all donations direct to research)
  • Grayson Jockey Club Foundation (funds a cross-section of equine research, best to look into specific laminitis research opportunities)
  • Australian Equine Laminitis Research Unit (Dr Chris Pollitt) US donations go through Animal Health Foundation
  • Breed, sport, welfare, research foundations: Ask if laminitis is a priority for the current funding cycle and whether endocrinopathic or general laminitis research are funding targets. If you want to fund support-limb or septic laminitis, find a program that funds it; if you want to fund Cushing's disease or "grass" founder, find a program that funds that. Ask for advice to find a program that is geared toward your interests and priorities. The Hoof Project has a variety of laminitis research projects underway at that might fit your goals.
Presley Boy won't be the last horse to die. Could we work together to make him one of the last? 

Post script: At the World Equestrian Games in Normandy this week, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was represented by an individual competitor, HH Prince Faisal Al Shalan. He rode a Dutch Warmblood stallion by Concorde, the same sire as Presley Boy.

Current research links:

September 2014 Equine Veterinary Journal:

Kullmann, A., Holcombe, S. J., Hurcombe, S. D., Roessner, H. A., Hauptman, J. G., Geor, R. J. and Belknap, J. (2014), Prophylactic digital cryotherapy is associated with decreased incidence of laminitis in horses diagnosed with colitis. Equine Veterinary Journal, 46: 554–559. doi: 10.1111/evj.12156
"Horses treated with ICE had 10 times less odds of developing laminitis compared with horses treated without ICE (odds ratio 0.11, 95% confidence limit 0.03–0.44)."
van Eps, A. W., Pollitt, C. C., Underwood, C., Medina-Torres, C. E., Goodwin, W. A. and Belknap, J. K. (2014), Continuous digital hypothermia initiated after the onset of lameness prevents lamellar failure in the oligofructose laminitis model. Equine Veterinary Journal, 46: 625–630. doi: 10.1111/evj.12180
This paper appears to expand the time window for effective cryotherapy but contains the cautionary end note: "The findings support the use of therapeutic hypothermia in clinical cases of acute laminitis; however, there remains a need for studies that document clinical efficacy and safety in order to develop recommendations for the clinical environment."

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