MYAKKA CITY — World-renown horseman Doug Schembri, died Tuesday morning while working on his 60-acre Myakka City farm. He was 61.
Mr. Schembri, who owned Char-O-Lot Ranch with his wife Susan, was fixing a water pump at about 9:30 a.m. when he collapsed and fell into a nearby pond. The cause of death was heart disease.
Authorities say Mr. Schembri was clutching a metal pipe that ran from the pump to a nearby pond when he let out a scream. His wife and a friend ran to his aid, pulled him from the pond, then called 911, said Randy Warren, a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
Paramedics arrived, performed CPR and transported him to Lakewood Ranch Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.
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Less than eight hours after her husband’s death, family friends say Mr. Schembri’s wife suffered a seizure at their ranch off State Road 70 East. She was taken in the same ambulance to the same hospital. Wednesday night she remained in stable condition in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.
Initially, rumors circulated that Mr. Schembri was electrocuted, but an autopsy showed he died of heart disease.
“There was a mention that electrocution was a potential mechanism based on the original story, but we looked at the equipment and that was not possible. The pump was not on and as best we can determine was not plugged in,” said Medical Examiner Russell Vega, who conducted the autopsy Tuesday afternoon.
Mr. Schembri is survived by his wife, and children Sean, 23, of Myakka City, and Jenifer, 38, of Sarasota.
In a statement released to the Bradenton Herald on Wednesday, the son and daughter called their father the finest horseman in the equine community.
“He was admired and respected by all who knew him,” they wrote. “What people may not realize is that he had an amazing commitment to his family — to his wife and his children. No matter what, we came first.”
Throughout his more than 40 year career as a horse breeder, trainer, rehabilitator and salesman, Mr. Schembri won national and international championships for his Quarter, Appaloosa and Paint horses.
Friends and family described him as a humble, hard-working equestrian, never seen without sporting his favorite brown cowboy boots, T-shirt, jeans and Char-O-Lot baseball cap.
Suzy’Qs co-owner Susanne Teuton knew him well.
He ate at her tiny Myakka eatery almost daily.
His favorite dish: Hamburger steak with grilled mushrooms, mash potatoes and the vegetable of the day.
To drink, unsweet tea.
For dessert, the pie of the day.
“He was a busy man, never sat around,” said Dawn Graf, who was taught to train horses at Char-O-Lot. “He and Susan made a good living in a business that’s very hard to run.”
His horses were treated like royalty, said veterinarian Bill Whitler, who’s worked at Char-O-Lot with Mr. Schembri for about five years.
“He was passionate and compassionate about them,” Whitler said.
To horse owners across the county, including Chris Accurso, of Myakka City, he was a friend. She recalled the day her two horses were struck by lightning. One died instantly, the other was paralyzed.
“I called him, he came right down, looked at me, said she needed to be put down. He was very sympathetic. Anything you’d ask of him, he would try to help you.”
Forest Lakes Animal Clinic veterinarian James Kurzydlo, who knew Mr. Schembri for more than 40 years, boasted of his friend’s success.
“He and Susan made little Myakka City somewhat nationally known because when they went to big shows, they were the competition. They were the ones to beat. That’s how good they were,” he said.
Although his long-time friend is gone, Kurzydlo said he is not forgotten.
“Wonderful, genuine praise for that gentleman,” Kurzydlo said. “I will miss him. He was truly the ultimate horseman.”
As of Wednesday, funeral arrangements were pending.