King Family polo match ends in horse’s death, rider’s hospitalization

In what is being described as a “freak and unpredictable accident,” a horse died and a rider fractured her skull at a polo match Sunday afternoon at King Family Vineyards in Crozet.

The horse, Fortuna, died after experiencing an aortic aneurysm. 

“She [the horse] collapsed just as she got onto the field,” Ali King, a trainer at the Roseland Polo Club at King Family Vineyards, told The Daily Progress on Monday. “It is so unlucky there was a rider on her when this happened.”

The player, a guest from a visiting Jamaican team, experienced a minor skull fracture, according to King. The player was released from the hospital Monday morning and is predicted to make a full recovery. 

“The rider had been playing for a number of years,” King said. “This is a freak and unpredictable incident.” 

Every year, Roseland Polo professional players face off against a team from Jamaica on the pitch at King Family Vineyards. Hundreds of spectators attend weekly polo matches in the summer, and this one was no different. 

According to King, Fortuna had just come onto the field when she collapsed. The teenage horse was said to be healthy aside from a preexisting condition.

“Fortuna was in good health as far as we know. It is so unfortunate,” King said. “She had a preexisting condition where her aorta would swell to a larger-than-normal size. A teenage horse is plenty young enough to be doing what she was doing. Plenty of horses play into their 20s.”

When a horse’s aorta ruptures, blood fills and compresses the horse’s heart, which oftentimes ends in sudden death.

“It was not something that could have been avoided or predicted,” Roseland Polo said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this condition typically has no warning signs until the aorta ruptures, as was the case this past Sunday.”

The chukker periods on Sunday were reduced from 7 1/2 minutes to six minutes each because of the heat. Temperatures reached nearly 100 degrees at their peak during the day. 

But heat was not a factor in the incident, said King. 

“Even though there were high temperatures and humidity, there was still a good breeze and we reduced the playing times to keep the riders and animals safe,” King said.

The incident, which took place during the final chukker of the first match of the day, did not stop play for the rest of the day.

“About 98% of the crowd that had come to the matches stayed,” King said. “We all held a moment of silence, and then felt we needed to play.”

King emphasized that animal wellbeing is a top priority of Roseland Polo. 

“We’ve been around for 20 years, and we have many pros who put animal welfare at the forefront of what they and we do. Animal health comes first,” King said. “There is no way we could have predicted that would occur. It is unlucky there was a rider on the horse.

Luke Fountain (828) 320-6633

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