Sixteen prized ponies (not the ones pictured) have died in mysterious circumstances. Picture: Zoe Phillips.
Sixteen prized ponies (not the ones pictured) have died in mysterious circumstances. Picture: Zoe Phillips.

Mystery of 16 horses found ‘dead and cold’

AUTHORITIES are scrambling to solve the mysterious case of 16 prized ponies that were found "dead and cold" after disembarking from the Spirit Of Tasmania in Melbourne.

The horses had competed in the Barnbougle Polo tournament on the 'Apple Isle' before being shipped back to mainland and found dead soon after.

The horses disembarked on January 29 and were found dead within the hour but an Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokeswoman said it was unclear exactly when the deaths occurred. The incident was reported last Monday. understands some of the horses were owned by former Australian polo team captain Andrew Williams and that he managed others on behalf of his employer - one of Australia's richest men - Twynams Agricultural Group founder, John Kahlbetzer.

Mr Williams described the deaths as "a nightmare" and demanded answers.

Willo Polo horses outside a float.
Willo Polo horses outside a float.

"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 in a statement. "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."

Mr Williams said he "knew then that something was potentially wrong" because his truck was not indicating the usual activity.

"I then arrived in Yarra Glen at a friend's property," he said. "It was my worst nightmare. 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.

"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."

The horses were reportedly based between the Willo Polo club in Richmond, west Sydney - once owned and operated by Mr Williams - and the Jemalong Polo Clubs in Forbes, centralwest NSW - owned by Mr Kahlbetzer.

A representative from Willo Polo told the ABC the investigation was "in the hands of authorities" and the club was "hoping to find out what happened".

The Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority are conducting a joint investigation into the matter.

RSPCA chief executive Dr Andrew Byrne described the deaths as a "tragedy."

"It's a horrible, horrible event that's happened," he said.

"It would have been an absolutely horrific moment for those horses," he said.