Dressage Stallion Totilas' Owners, Rider Face PETA Complaint

International champion dressage stallion Totilas is being treated unethically and in violation of German animal welfare laws, according to one welfare organization lawyer. Specifically, the horse suffers from forced hyperflexion when ridden and from constant isolation in a box stall when not in training, the lawyer said.

The German branch of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) organization has filed a complaint against Paul Schockemöhle and Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff, Totilas’s owners, and Matthias Alexander Rath, his rider, with the country’s prosecuting office, said Davina Bruhn, LLD, a lawyer for PETA Germany.

"Since he didn’t fulfill the expectations of his owners, Mr. Rath began to train him with the questionable hyperflexion technique, which many recognized horse experts reject," Bruhn told The Horse.

These experts include Gerd Heuschmann, DVM; Heinz Meyer, PhD; and Kathrin Kienapfel, MSc, who "clearly state that training with hyperflexion causes severe physical problems for horses’ musculature, vertebrae, and ability to balance, and that it could also cause psychological disorders," Bruhn said. "The researchers agree that the hyperflexion ‘method’ leads to irreversible damages and is under no circumstances consistent with the German animal welfare law."

The fact that Totilas is kept in a stall approximately 22 hours per day is also unacceptable for PETA, said Bruhn. "It is absolutely necessary for horses to live in herds and to walk at least 16 hours per day," she said. "A two-hour training session in trot or canter cannot replace this."

The free-movement requirements are specified in the guidelines of the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Consumer Protection, said Bruhn. "Rath stated (on a German television interview) that Totilas wasn’t allowed to move freely and that they only went for a walk with him on the halter," she added.

"Matthias Alexander Rath makes no secret of Totilas not having any social contact with other horses and not being given the possibility to spend time on a pasture," she said.

Schockemöhle was not immediately available to comment, and Linsenhoff and Rath opted not to comment on the issue.

The German prosecuting office will decide whether further investigations are warranted to determine if the owners and rider have violated Germany’s animal welfare laws, according to Bruhn.

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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