An owner is suing the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) over the sudden death of her grand prix dressage horse.

Lindsay Roberts’ horse, Nemo III, and rider Lisa Hopkins had just made the move to big tour and were on the British Equestrian Federation’s World Class Development squad for future British team members. But Nemo died after being sent for routine bone scanning.

Now Mrs Roberts of Swanbourne Road, Murlsey, Milton Keynes, is suing the RVC for damages of more than £350,000, claiming breach of contract, breach of duty, and negligence.

The 12-year-old Dutch warmblood gelding was admitted to the RVC equine hospital at Hatfield, Herts, on 9 November 2007.

Vet Lawrence O’Hara inserted an intravenous catheter into his jugular vein and this was stitched to his skin, according to a High Court writ.

Later, he was injected with a radioactive marker, technetium, with plans for the bone scan to take place in several hours’ time. About an hour later, he was given the sedative ACP and diuretic Frusemide via the catheter.

Mrs Roberts said she asked for the catheter to be covered as he was rubbing his neck against the door, and for a grille to put at his door, the writ says. But neither was done and Nemo was found dead in his stable at 1.45pm.

Mrs Roberts believes if the RVC had not breached its duty he would still be alive and enjoying an international dressage career.

She also says that by the time Professor Ken Smith carried out a post mortem examination on 12 November, Nemo’s body had decomposed and the cause of death was unclear.

Prof Smith reported that the most likely causes were either venous air embolism, a reaction to the drugs he was given, or fatal cardiac dysrhythmia.

Mrs Roberts, her husband, Lisa Hopkins, and Team GB vet John McEwen met Profs Roger Smith, Ken Smith and Josh Slater of the college.

They admitted that a grille was not put up, nor Nemo’s catheter site covered, no one had checked his heart, and the most likely reason for the catheter and an extension set uncoupling was because he had been rubbing his neck on the door, the writ states.

An RVC spokesman said: “We are unable to comment on this case while it is subject to potential legal proceedings.”

Mrs Roberts did not wish to comment and no date has yet been set for the hearing.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (11 February, ’10)