Friday, Jul. 5, 2024

Owner, USEF Disagree About What Killed Chromatic BF

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a statement revised by the U.S. Equestrian Federation for clarity and a comment from USEF Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Stephen Schumacher.

Correction: The original article erroneously stated that Selevit is available in the United States as E-SE, a Merck Animal Health product. Merck is not associated with Selevit, and Selevit and E-SE have different formulations. 

The final necropsy report for Chromatic BF, the American horse who died at the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Final in Riyadh in April, was completed June 8. It states that the horse died of pulmonary hemorrhages and edema, which “could be attributed to multiple causes, including disseminated intravascular coagulation, cardiopulmonary failure, shock and exercise-associated fatal pulmonary hemorrhage.”

The gelding’s breeder and owner KC Branscomb and the U.S. Equestrian Federation disagree about what caused the fatal pulmonary hemorrhaging. Branscomb believes her horse died as a result of anaphylactic shock brought on by an intravenous injection of Selevit, Legend, Adequan and arnica administered by USEF team veterinarian Dr. Diego Ulibarri, MVZ, minutes before the horse started seizing and collapsed.

USEF officials, on the other hand, say the report raises the suspicion the pulmonary hemorrhage was brought on by strenuous exercise in the horse. Roughly two hours before his death, “Chromatic” had jumped to third place in the second round of the World Cup Final.

“We have received the final necropsy report for Chromatic BF, who passed away at the FEI World Cup Finals in April,” USEF said in a statement updated Tuesday afternoon for clarity. “The cause of the death was severe diffuse pulmonary hemorrhage and edema, which could be attributed to multiple causes, including disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), cardiopulmonary failure, shock and exercise-associated fatal pulmonary hemorrhage. The report further indicates that the histopathologic findings raise the suspicion of fatal equine exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, despite Chromatic BF not exhibiting any overt signs of such condition. According to the final report, the administered medications were not identified as the cause of death.”

The report notes, after naming the multiple possible causes for the hemorrhage, that “[t]o narrow down this differential list, complete hematology and biochemical analyses from blood collected at the time of death should have been provided.”

It concludes with the comment cited by USEF, that the histopathological findings, or study of the tissue samples, “raise the suspicion of equine-induced fatal pulmonary hemorrhage.”

USEF Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Stephen Schumacher indicated the necropsy report is not conclusive as to the cause of the hemorrhage and edema.

Jill Humphrey rode Chromatic BF to third place in the second leg of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Final on the evening of April 18. FEI/Martin Dokoupil Photo

The Night In Question

Branscomb recalled in detail the evening of April 18, the night of Chromatic’s death.

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The 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Connor 48—Sonnengirl B, Concept 2) had jumped a clear round that evening with rider Jill Humphrey in the second leg of the World Cup Final, and followed that with another clear round in the jump-off to finish third that day. Chromatic was bucking during the victory gallop that followed, Branscomb said.

“About an hour and a half after the last of the awards ceremony, about two hours after the class, I get a call from [Chromatic’s longtime groom Pepe Rodriguez],” Branscomb, Half Moon Bay, California, said. “He was worried and upset that they were asking him to bring the horse to the vet station. We had been very clear earlier in the week nothing be done to him without [permission from] me personally or my veterinarian, who was not in Riyadh but available by phone. He was concerned because I hadn’t told him the horse was getting a shot.”

Owners must sign a horse participation agreement with USEF when their horse participates in an international competition representing the U.S. That agreement effectively requires owners to loan their horse to the USEF and that, “[f]or purposes of horse welfare, by signing this Agreement the horse owner(s) give their full permission to the USEF and its agents to administer medication to their horse(s) in the interest of the horse(s) welfare and well-being during the loan period.”

Branscomb said she was not consulted before her horse received the injection, which she was told was 20 cc of Selevit. She was upset to learn in the horse’s post-mortem report that he also had Legend, Adequan, Traumeel and arnica in his system, which were drugs she was not aware he had been administered. All are typically used to address joint pain, and none are prohibited substances under Fédération Equestre Internationale rules.

As soon as Branscomb received Rodriguez’s phone call, she headed to the barn, she said. She arrived just after Chromatic had received the injection and been walked from the veterinary station to the crossties, where Rodriguez started wrapping him. As she fed him carrots there, Chromatic suddenly screamed and collapsed, then began seizing, she said. FEI and USEF veterinarians attended to him immediately, but efforts to revive the gelding were unsuccessful.

USEF Weighs In

USEF Chief Marketing And Content Officer Vicki Lowell wrote in an email that “Chromatic and two other U.S. team horses were administered Selevit to help maximize muscle recovery and minimize injury risk after jumping on day two of the FEI World Cup Finals.”

Five U.S. horses competed in the April 18 event; Lowell did not specify which were administered Selevit.

“Selevit and other medications that contain low doses of selenium have been used by some USEF team vets for post-competition muscle recovery without known issue. Selevit is permitted by the FEI,” Lowell wrote.

Branscomb said that, after Chromatic’s death, Ulibarri submitted a proposal to the FEI that would ban IV Selevit.

An FEI representative could not immediately confirm whether Ulibarri had submitted such a proposal but did say the FEI “will address the administration of injectable minerals and vitamins at upcoming Veterinary Committee meetings, and as part of the project reviewing the Equine Prohibited Substances List (EPSL) Criteria.”

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Since Chromatic’s death, USEF has stopped administering Selevit to team horses as a matter of course, Lowell said, Now it will only be administered to a team horse if the substance is “personally provided to the USEF team vet by an athlete and requested to be administered to the horse by the athlete.”

Chromatic’s toxicology report also showed dexamethasone in his system, which had been administered in an attempt to treat him after he began to seize.

Branscomb Reacts

Branscomb, who received the final necropsy report Monday, June 10, was upset to see the list of medications present in Chromatic’s blood, and said she is angry that Ulibarri did not disclose the full slate of medications Chromatic was administered on the evening of April 18, even after repeated questioning. While she initially believed him to be contrite, she now feels she was deliberately misled.

She also noted that the post-mortem report, completed by the pathology department at King Faisal University in Saudi Arabia, contained factual errors (for example, it states that the horse competed on April 18 and 19, while the actual dates were April 17 and 18), inconsistencies in the timeline, and typos.

USEF is wrong to be emphasizing the possibility that Chromatic’s death was caused by exercise-associated fatal pulmonary hemorrhage, she said, when it was at least an hour and a half between the end of competition and the horse’s death and the horse wasn’t showing signs of distress in the interim. She thinks it’s much more likely that the injection administered minutes before the horse’s collapse led to his death.

In the aftermath of Chromatic’s death, and before receiving the final reports on it, Branscomb worked with senior officials at the USEF to revamp the Horse Participation Agreement. In the new draft, called the United States Equestrian Federation Inc. Horse Participation Consent Agreement, owners don’t loan their horses to the USEF.

The new document also addresses another of Branscomb’s concerns: Who is in charge of medicating a horse in non-emergency situations? As it stands today, she said, the decision to administer the Selevit and the other medications lay completely with the USEF veterinarian. She compared the situation to flying an airplane, saying that there’s always a co-pilot in case of a mistake, and pointed out in this situation there was no co-pilot to weigh in on whether the horse should have received non-emergency medication.

According to the new draft, the athlete—who is considered the “person responsible” by the FEI—must sign off on all non-emergency medications.

Branscomb is now considering legal action against the USEF.

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