Totilas legal dispute: court rules over dead stallion’s semen

  • The exclusive breeding rights to the late record-breaking dressage star Totilas are held by Paul Schockemöhle, a Dutch court has ruled in a dispute over the dead stallion’s semen.

    The legal wrangle involves the stallion’s previous owner, Kees Visser, and Mr Schockemöhle, and has been rumbling through German and Dutch courts for some years.

    H&H reported on an interim decision by a German court to prevent Mr Visser from selling Totilas’ frozen semen (news, 11 April 2021), which was upheld later that year following an appeal. Once the interim injunction proceedings were concluding, main proceedings had to be initiated to conclude the legal dispute by a final court decision. Mr Schockemöhle did so at the Oldenburg Regional Court, and these proceedings are ongoing.

    At the same time, Mr Visser initiated main proceedings in the Netherlands, which have recently concluded, where he sought the declaration that he is entitled to sell Totilas’ semen. He also sought damages of up to €18m (£15.93 million) against Mr Schockemöhle. The Court of Gelderland in Arnhem, the Netherlands, dismissed Mr Visser’s claim on 15 February 2023.

    The court ruling document from this 15 February decision was anonymised, referring to Mr Visser as the plaintiff and to Mr Schockemöhle as the defendant.

    The case hinged on whether buying Totilas in 2010 for €9.5m – in a verbal agreement – included exclusive breeding rights. It also focused on whether a box of 301 semen straws with a value of “at least several hundred thousand euros” delivered to the new owner were a gift or something else.

    Mr Visser, who had straws of Totilas’ frozen semen from when he owned the horse, argued that Mr Schockemöhle bought only the horse – not exclusive breeding rights.

    After Totilas’ death in December 2020, his former owner listed the horse’s frozen semen for sale online via a third party, which kicked off the dispute and subsequent legal proceedings.

    “[The plaintiff] has pointed out that only the sale of the horse Totilas was invoiced and that the exclusive breeding rights were not also charged,” states the ruling.

    “The description also does not exclude that exclusive breeding rights were included in the sale of the horse. Although the invoice forms a point of reference for [the plaintiff’s] reading, the court cannot attach any weighty significance to it.”

    The judge ruled that the arrival of the free box of semen lines up with Mr Schockemöhle’s argument that the exclusive breeding rights were included in the purchase, and “seems to have in a sense actually recognised the exclusive breeding rights of [the defendant]”.

    The court ruling notes that in 2021, Mr Schockemöhle attempted to buy Mr Visser’s remaining stock of Totilas’ frozen semen. It was argued that this was because Mr Schockemöhle “wanted to avoid lengthy and costly legal proceedings” about the exclusive breeding rights being part of the sale.

    The judge dismissed the case, ordering Mr Visser to pay €12,198 (£10,784) in the defendant’s costs, and added that the “few circumstances” in favour of Mr Visser’s arguments “do not carry enough weight against the many weighty leads” for the defendant.

    “In view of the foregoing, the court is of the opinion that [the defendant] has sufficiently demonstrated that the parties meant that the sale of Totilas included the exclusive right to breed with this stallion and to market his semen,” he said.

    H&H has contacted both sides for comment. Mr Visser’s lawyers have not yet responded, but previously told H&H following the German interim injunction in 2021: “If you buy a mare, you don’t also own her foal, unless it’s inside her.”

    Mr Schockemöhle’s lawyer Dagmar Borchers told H&H: “Of course, we feel confirmed in our legal opinion by this third court decision in this matter. In the meantime, [Mr] Visser has filed an appeal against this decision of the court in Arnhem, but has not yet substantiated it.

    “The main proceedings in Germany are also still ongoing and we are waiting for Visser’s statement of defence.”

    Mr Schockemöhle’s Dutch lawyer Maud van den Berg, of MAAK Advocaten, told H&H she is “pleased with the outcome”.

    “It is well-judged, fair and just, and is in line with what is common practice,” she said. “The judgement is thus a clear example of ‘actions speak louder than words’ in a complex matter. “Our law firm in the Netherlands holds this matter close to heart as the outcome of this legal procedure does not only affect our client, but also the entire group of stud farms (acting internationally).”

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