Polo player Andrew Williams recalls 'nightmare'

The former coach of the Australian polo team, Andrew Williams, said he is waiting for answers following the death of 16 horses in transit from Tasmania to NSW.

The former coach of the Australian polo team, Andrew Williams, said he is waiting for answers following the death of 16 horses in transit from Tasmania to NSW.

UPDATE, Friday: 

Veterinarians at Charles Sturt University (CSU) are investigating the tragic deaths of a number of horses at the end of January. The animals were delivered to CSU in  Wagga after they were found dead in a horse transport vehicle which had just crossed Bass Strait on a ferry from Tasmania. Necropsies have been conducted and staff await further results.

UPDATE, Friday: 

Polo professional Andrew Williams, said his career and livelihood has been put on hold after 16 horses under his management, died in transit from Tasmania to NSW in January. 

It is understood 10 of the horses belonged to Mr Williams of Willo Polo Club and the rest were owned by his employer, Johnny Kahlbetzer, the son of German-born agribusiness baron John Dieter Kahlbetzer.

Along with his younger brother, Mr Kahlbetzer runs the family's extensive agribusiness, property, venture capital and resources operations and owns Jemalong Polo Club in Forbes where the horses were based.

Mr Williams described the A-grade polo ponies as his “lifeline, income and best friends” and said the loss had affected his business and sporting commitments. 

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

“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.”

An investigation led by the Department of  Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment and supported by veterinary authorities in Victoria and NSW, is currently underway. 

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority confirmed the Spirit of Tasmania had “complied with AMSA requirements relating to the carriage of livestock”. 

Mr Williams is the owner of Willo Polo Club in Richmond, NSW, which had two horse trucks returning from the Barnbougle Polo tournament held on January 20. 

Tasmanian polo player Justin Couper, credited him with bringing the sport to the state five years ago. 

“His passion to make the sport thrive is a credit to him,” Mr Couper said. 

“This could be career breaking for Andrew, but he is tough, just how tough we will wait and see.”

Mr Williams said the incident is with his legal team now and he is hoping to receive the “answers he deserves”. 

“I really enjoyed bringing polo to Tasmania, and in turn, this support and exposure has allowed the game to grow,” he said.

“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.”

The circumstances surrounding the death of 16 horses in transit from Tasmania to NSW following January's Barnbougle Polo event, remain uncertain.

The circumstances surrounding the death of 16 horses in transit from Tasmania to NSW following January's Barnbougle Polo event, remain uncertain.

UPDATE, Thursday: 

One of Australia’s most prominent polo players has described the moment he discovered 16 horses “dead and cold” in the back of his truck. 

Andrew Williams was transporting 18 polo ponies back to NSW after attending the Barnbougle Polo event in January.

In a statement released on Thursday, the former coach of the Australian polo team said he made the discovery within an hour of crossing Bass Strait on January 29.

“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,” he said. 

“So I rang my other truck and asked if his load was travelling well.

“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.”

The horses arrived in Melbourne on January 29, following an overnight journey on the spirit of Tasmania.

The horses arrived in Melbourne on January 29, following an overnight journey on the spirit of Tasmania.

Mr Wiliams said he went into “survival mode”, transporting the 16 dead horses to Wagga Equine Hospital for autopsies – the results of which are not yet known.

He said he is still waiting for his questions to be answered regarding the incident. 

“I didn’t change anything,” he said. 

“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.”

EARLIER:

The circumstances surrounding the death of 16 horses being transported from Tasmania to NSW in January remain uncertain.

An investigation led by the Department of  Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment and supported by veterinary authorities in Victoria and NSW, is currently underway. 

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority confirmed the Spirit of Tasmania had “complied with AMSA requirements relating to the carriage of livestock”. 

The Australian Polo Federation said it was recently made aware of the deaths of 16 polo ponies, but were not in a position to comment on the incident until investigations were completed. 

“As with the loss of any horses from the broader polo community, the Australian Polo Federation was saddened by this news,” chairman Tim Clarke said.

“The Australian Polo Federation considers the health and wellbeing of any polo pony to be paramount in its administration of the sport of polo in Australia.”

The horses died in transit while being transported back to NSW, after competing at the Barnbougle Polo event on January 20 and travelled overnight on the Spirit of Tasmania on January 28. 

The news of the deaths on Wednesday sent a shockwave through Tasmania’s equestrian community.

Tasmania Horse Transport’s Hayley Sheehan said horse owners deserved to know the outcome of the investigation. 

“I think there needs to be far more transparency about what has happened here,” she said. 

“People are making assumptions and delaying the fact is not helping people. 

“It is creating a lot of uncertainty in the horse industry and I think we deserve some answers about what has happened here.”

Vern Poke, of Bass Strait Horse Transport, has been transporting horses between Tasmania and the mainland for more than 40 years and said the incident was “completely unprecedented”. 

“I have crossed Bass Strait with horses more than 4000 times and I didn’t believe the news when I heard it,” he said. 

“Something like this, for 16 horses to die in one go…it doesn’t add up.”

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