The nationally recognized CSU polo club's horses had swollen mouths over the weekend after they were fed hay that contained foxtails, a type of bur, which stuck in their gums.
The problem caused a women's polo game between Texas Tech and CSU, originally slated for Saturday, to be played Sunday to give the horses time to recover.
"We had to pull the (foxtails) out manually," said Jason Bruemmer, CSU polo club adviser. "We erred on the side of caution and delayed the game."
Foxtail is a type of grass that can cause painful sores to horses that eat it. The barbed seedheads from the grass dig into the horses cheeks and gums and can create infected sores and abscesses, according to Dr. Jessica Jahiel, a publisher of a newsletter about horses.
Olivia Stringer, team captain of the CSU women's polo club, said Sunday that there's nothing to be worried about regarding the health of the ponies.
"Our horses and their health is not an issue," she said. "They're all exceptionally well taken care of."
The horses were each checked on Saturday by Bruemmer, who is also an assistant professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, and the polo club. They were deemed ready to play Sunday.
After yanking out the foxtails, Bruemmer said he and club members massaged their mouths three times a day with warm water.
It's unclear where the foxtail-laden hay originated since the college's horses eat several tons of hay monthly, Bruemmer said. A 1,000-pound horse eats about 20 to 25 pounds of hay per day, he added.
The college has a bidding process whereby they purchase hay from multiple vendors, so tracking the origin would be difficult.
Bruemmer emphasized that the problem of foxtails is common in the West, and that the club is vigilant about dealing with it.
"They're very talented students and a very dedicated club," he said.
Jahiel, however, wrote it's the responsibility of horse owners to thoroughly check the hay and refuse shipment if foxtails are found.
"Whenever you have a hay delivery, look at the hay, open some sample bales, and if you see foxtails, send it back," she wrote in response to a reader of her newsletter who had recurring problems with foxtails.
The hay at CSU is checked but foxtails can be very small and hard to locate, Bruemmer said. The problem has occurred before, but it's never caused a game to be delayed, he said.
Club members raise money themselves to feed and take care of the horses.
The CSU horses are housed in the B.W. Pickett Equine Center, located on the west side of Overland Trail, just north of Elizabeth Street. Home games are played in the center.
The CSU women's club won Sunday's game against Texas Tech. Polo – "the game of kings" – is played on horseback and has a rich history. It's believed to be the oldest team sport, originating about 2,500 years ago in Asia.
Despite the CSU polo club's glowing record, Bruemmer called the turnout for home games "dismal."
In 1999, the men's team won the national championship. In 2002, the women's team won the regional championship and placed second nationally.