Jemalong Polo Club lost 18 horses crossing Bass Strait on January 29

Polo at the Jemalong club in 2016. File photo.
Polo at the Jemalong club in 2016. File photo.

Jemalong Polo Club’s Andrew Williams has spoken about the loss of 18 playing horses during transport from Tasmania.

“They are my lifeline, my income and my best friends,” he said in a statement released last Thursday.

Mr Williams described the moment he discovered 16 horses dead in the back of his truck and another two fighting to survive.

The former captain of the Australian polo team was transporting 18 polo ponies back to NSW after attending the Barnbougle Polo event in January.

He said he made the devastating discovery the horses had not survived the journey within an hour of crossing Bass Strait on January 29.

“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. 

“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. I knew then that something was potentially wrong, as mine was not indicating the usual activity.

“I then arrived in Yarra Glen at a friend’s property. It was my worst nightmare. 

“Within an hour of leaving the boat, I had 16 horses that were cold dead and two fighting to survive.”

Mr Wiliams said he went into “survival mode”, transporting the 16 dead horses to Wagga Equine Hospital for autopsies – the results of which are not yet known.

He said he is still waiting for his questions to be answered. 

“I didn’t change anything,” he said. “Yes, it was a warm night. I have asked for answers, but have received nothing. 

“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.”

Mr Williams owned some of the dead animals and managed others belonging to his employer Johnny Kahlbetzer, the son of German-born agribusiness baron John Dieter Kahlbetzer.

Along with his younger brother, Mr Kahlbetzer runs the family's extensive agribusiness, property, venture capital and resources operations and owns Jemalong Polo Club where the horses were based.

“I have lost a breeding line that was priceless to me, and I have already had to knock back playing commitments,” Mr Williams said.

“I am a farmer, a polo player and a breeder of ponies. They are the reason I can feed my family. To have that taken away is gut-wrenching.

“It is with the legal team now and hopefully they will receive the answers I deserve.

“ … No one should go through what I have recently gone through. I am just trying to stay busy, but it’s there, and I can’t see it going away until we have some answers.”

Representatives of the Spirit of Tasmania told Fairfax Media the organisation would not comment while investigations continued.

A spokeswoman for Tasmania's Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, said the department was being assisted by other jurisdictions, including chief veterinary officers in Victoria and NSW.

"As per standard practice, no further details will be released as this is an ongoing investigation," the spokeswoman said.