Tragedy as 16 polo horses die in mystery death during transport

Andrew Williams in action.

Andrew Williams in action.

A farmer and one of Australia’s best known polo players is devastated after 16 elite polo horses died suddenly shortly after arriving in Melbourne after a crossing on the ferry from Tasmania.

Andrew Williams said his career  and livelihood had been put on hold after he discovered within an hour of crossing Bass Strait that 16 A grade polo ponies under his management had died a tragic death.

Williams, from Jemalong near Forbes, owns 10 of the horses while six of the other horses were owned by one of Australia’s richest men, John Kahlbetzer. Mr Williams, formerly based at Richmond, now manages Kahlbetzer’s polo horses as well as his own.

The incident occurred on January 29. Ferry owner Spirit of Tasmania has no knowledge of what series of events may have led to the horses collapsing and later dying.

An initial investigation by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority found Spirit Of Tasmania operator TT-Line "complied with AMSA requirements relating to the carriage of livestock".

Williams, who has coached and captained the Australian team, is shattered by the death of his beloved ponies. “They are my lifeline, my income and my best friends,” he said.

“I have done this trip 11 times in the same truck, but I knew something was wrong as I drove through the city of Melbourne a short time after disembarking. So I rang my other truck and asked if his load was travelling well,” Williams said.

“My head groom said his horses couldn’t wait to get off his truck. I knew then that something was potentially wrong, as mine was not indicating the usual activity. I then arrived in Yarra Glen at a friend’s property. It was my worst nightmare. Within an hour of leaving the boat, I had 16 horses that were cold dead and two fighting to survive,” he continued.

Williams has represented Australia and played polo in 16 countries. Some elite polo horses are worth well over $100,000.

“I just went into survival mode for the surviving two, and after offloading them in Yarra Glen, I was on the road with the 16 dead polo ponies to Wagga Equine Hospital, which is regarded as the best in the country,” Williams said.

Wagga Equine Hospital is conducting autopsies.

“I have lost a breeding line that was priceless to me, and I have already had to knock back playing commitments,” Williams said.

Williams has requested answers, but so far nothing has been forthcoming.

“I didn’t change anything. Yes, it was a warm night. I have asked for answers, but have received nothing. What I know is I saw 18 healthy horses on my truck just before departure in Tasmania, and an hour after leaving the boat in Melbourne I discovered 16 of them were dead and cold, ” said Williams.

“I am a farmer, a polo player and a breeder of ponies. They are the reason I can feed my family. To have that taken away is gut-wrenching. It is with the legal team now and hopefully they will receive the answers I deserve,” he added. 

 “I really enjoyed bringing polo to Tasmania, and in turn, this support and exposure has allowed the game to grow. I don’t want that to fade away, but I need answers because no one should go through what I have recently gone through. I am just trying to stay busy, but it’s there, and l can’t see it going away until we have some answers.”