Horse dies at Royal Easter Show in latest equestrian event tragedy

A cordon is erected around the fallen horse in the Giants’ Stadium. Image: Karen Pereira.

By ALEC SMART

A horse has died during an equestrian performance on the opening night of the 2021 Sydney Royal Easter Show on Thursday, 1 April, once again raising concerns about the welfare of horses at equestrian events, and animals as entertainment . The tragedy took place amidst a cattle rustling demonstration in the Giants’ AFL Stadium, within the Sydney Showgrounds.

Around 6pm, while a rodeo demonstration was taking place, a horse and rider galloped into the arena, the rider then leaping from the horse to rope and tackle a cow. Shortly afterwards, the horse suddenly collapsed and failed to recover, and rodeo assistants rushed to the scene.

Karen Pereira, a registered nurse who witnessed the scene and filmed the recovery operation, told the Sentinel, “I was watching the rodeo. I put my head down to check my phone settings [to do some filming], but when I looked up the horse was lying on the ground. I started counting, 15 seconds, but the horse remained still on the ground – way too long for athletic horses.

“Then men started running towards the horse. Two men arrived with medical boxes, one of them red, for humans – that’s the defibrillator and emergency box – but I’m not sure what it is for equine emergencies.”

Although the event was broadcast live to a large screen at one end of the arena for the thousands of spectators sat within the Giants’ Stadium, the coverage was halted and a cordon quickly raised around the prone horse.

“The MC started talking about other events in the Easter Show while the big screen changed to advertisements,” Ms Pereira continued.

“There were parents in the crowd saying, ‘This doesn’t look good.’ Then out came some men in black clothing. The horse was lifted into an ambulance trailer and carted off, but not at emergency speed.”

Ms Pereira filmed the stricken horse being removed from the arena, which delayed the night’s proceedings by approximately 10 minutes, although the opening night’s finale fireworks went off on schedule.

A Sydney Easter Show spokeswoman confirmed to the Sentinel that the fallen horse failed to recover.

She said, “As part of the Sydney Royal Rodeo Series, a horse collapsed at the end of an event after being dismounted by his rider.

“The onsite specialist equine vets attended to the horse immediately. The attending vets, assisted by the RAS [Royal Agricultural Society] ground staff, moved the horse into the horse ambulance where the vet remained to treat the horse as it was being taken to the onsite veterinary hospital.

“Shortly after removal from the arena, the horse was unfortunately pronounced dead.

“The initial diagnosis by the attending veterinarian was a sudden cardiovascular event. This is most likely to have been a ruptured aneurism or heart attack. The horse had just completed a one hundred-metre gallop as part of the event.

“This is the kind of exercise a horse would regularly undertake outside of competition,” she claimed.

“The owner is devastated by the loss of his long-term companion and will take him home to the family property for burial,” she said.

The last time a horse died during a Sydney Easter Show event was ten years ago, also during the opening night’s equestrian program.

On 14 April 2011, one of a team of Cobb & Co horses fell during a performance at the neighbouring Acer Arena (now known as Qudos Bank Arena). It suffered a ruptured aortic aneurysm and was believed to have died immediately.

In October 2020, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Australia reported that 116 horses had died on Australian race tracks in the last racing year.

The welfare of horses at equestrian events has become a hot topic in recent years, with Australia’s iconic horse race, the Melbourne Cup, recording horse deaths most years, and groups like Horse Racing Kills organising ‘Nup to the Cup’ protests at the Melbourne Cup and other horse racing and equestrian events.