What could have been the great sports-meets-entertainment story of the 2008 Olympic equestrian games was cut short today when a horse stared at by millions of moviegoers and thousands of eventing fans was euthanized.
If you saw the movie "Lord of the Rings", you may remember fleeting glimpses of the galloping dark horse now known as "Frodo Baggins" on the U.S. eventing scene. He was in the first film in the series, shot in his native New Zealand.
Frodo Baggins crossed the Pacific and became one of the United States Olympic Team's short-listed horses for the Hong Kong events coming up this summer.
Frodo Baggins was euthanised today at the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Kentucky. He was transferred to the clinic after sustaining multiple injuries on course in the cross-country phase of the Rolex (Kentucky) Three-Day Event at the Kentucky Horse Park on Saturday afternoon.
Ridden by Laine Ashker, Frodo Baggins fell at the fifth fence, known as the Flower Basket. Lexington's daily newspaper, the Herald-Leader, described the fall this way: "Jumping at a high speed, her horse, Frodo Baggins, apparently caught his front feet on the fence, causing it to flip over, slamming himself and his rider on the ground."
According to US Equestrian Federation's Joanie Morris, Ashker was conscious, talking and moving her extremities when she was transported by helicopter from the Horse Park to the University of Kentucky Hospital, where she is currently under the care of the emergency and trauma services staff.
Frodo Baggins was attended to immediately by a team of veterinarians. He was stabilized, sedated and transported to the Hagyard clinic, which is across Iron Works Parkway from the Horse Park.
According to Joanie, further tests at Hagyard showed that Frodo Baggins had sustained a fracture at the base of his skull as well as a serious lung injury. The prognosis was very poor. A representative for the Ashker family concurred that euthanasia was the most humane option for the horse.
Frodo Baggins was a black New Zealand-bred Thoroughbred; web site records tell us that he was either 10 or 13 years old. He was owned by his rider, who had placed with him at two horse trials this spring in Florida.
Laine and Frodo were named to the 2008 USEF Winter Training List for special sessions in Ocala, where they trained in dressage with Captain Mark Phillips and show jumpers Laura Kraut and Lauren Hough.
I had anticipated Frodo's return to Hong Kong, where he would compete against New Zealander Mark Todd and his horse, Gandalf. Laine had written of her horse on the Rolex web site, "In addition to filming the movie over a course of eight months, he also paraded around New Zealand for fans, met the prime minister of New Zealand, and even walked down the red carpet at the premiere of the film with Elijah Woods himself!"
Ashker was a featured rider on the 2008 web site of the Rolex event, and she also publishes a blog (similar to this one) chronicling her training and competition progress in 2007 and 2008.
Frodo's death is the second tragedy for Laine is less than a year. A s reported in this blog in June 2007, Laine's former eventing star, Eight Saint James Place, collapsed and died at the finish line of the 2007 Jersey Fresh*** Horse Trials. A tree and gravestone have been planted at the Horse Park of New Jersey, overlooking the water fence, in his memory. Autopsy reports revealed that the horse suffered an aneurysm, also called "equine pulmonary hemorrhage". Two horses died of pulmonary hemorrhaging last month at the Red Hills Horse Trials in Florida, as reported in this blog on March 19.
Earlier today, Laine Ashker competed at Rolex riding Mazetto, a Cleveland Bay/New Zealand Thoroughbred who was owned and ridden by her friend, Eleanor Brennan, who died this last year while competing in Florida.
The Rolex web site reports that Laine is ranked as the third leading rider in the US, and the top lady rider. She represented the United States in the 2007 "test event" in Hong Kong, which monitored the effects of heat and stress on the international horses, as well as the functioning of the new facilities. This was her fourth year of competition at Rolex