Cruelty Case Surrounding Dressage Stallion Totilas Dropped

The cruelty case against the connections of international dressage stallion Totilas has been dropped by prosecutors due to lack of evidence, according to the German branch of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). However, the prosecutors did acknowledge that both riding in hyperflexion and being kept in isolation could be harmful to horses’ well-being, even if they did not find that this applied in Totilas’ case.

“We are really pleased with this official admission that these acts can be considered contrary to equine welfare,” said Davina Bruhn, LLD, a lawyer for PETA Germany.

In October 2012 PETA Germany filed a complaint of cruelty and unethical treatment towards Totilas because the Dutch Warmblood was allegedly trained in hyperflexion and kept isolated from other horses. The complaint was filed against the horse's owners, Paul Schockemöhle and Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff, and his rider, Matthias Alexander Rath, with the country’s prosecuting office.

The prosecution’s decision was based on a visit by an equine welfare expert to the farm where Totilas is kept, Bruhn said. The expert and an accompanying veterinarian, sent by the prosecutors, examined Totilas’ stabling conditions and observed him being worked under saddle. “They found no signs of mistreatment during their visit,” Bruhn said. “But the expert did acknowledge that the visit—which lasted only three and a half hours—was short and only happened once.”

Totilas was not worked in hyperflexion during the visit, she said, and his stall opened up to a free-access paddock where he could be in close proximity to other horses. The farm had been informed of the upcoming visit, she added. Hyperflexion is not specifically described in German law as being illegal, but is indirectly condemned because of strict animal welfare laws protecting horses against “harmful” acts towards them, Bruhn said. PETA Germany had acquired the testimony of several expert and scientific witnesses who provided evidence that hyperflexion is harmful for horses, she said. The organization had also provided photos of the horse being worked in hyperflexion, she said.

The prosecution’s 150-page decision was delivered to PETA Tuesday (April 23). Bruhn said she and her colleagues will need time to carefully review the document and examine the specific reasons given for dropping the case.

“The fact that they handed down such a lengthy decision is really good news because this means the prosecution is taking this case very seriously,” Bruhn told The Horse.

Schockemöhle was unavailable for comment.

PETA plans to file an objection to the decision if the details of the reasons given for dropping the case are not satisfactory, she said.

Filing an objection would be the only course of action at this time, however, she added. Revising the complaint would require providing new facts, but PETA has not acquired new facts against Totilas since the original complaint. Even so, the organization will not hesitate to object the prosecution’s decision in order to ensure that horses in Germany are treated ethically.

“This isn’t likely to be over,” Bruhn said.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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