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Showjumping partnership runs into major legal hurdle

ONE of the most successful partnerships in world showjumping -- between blue-blooded animal lover Lady Georgina Forbes and international Irish rider Jessica Kuerten -- appeared to be on the rocks yesterday and headed for the courts.

Lady Forbes, whose ancestral home is the 17th Century pile at Castle Forbes in Newtownforbes, Co Longford, has forbidden the Antrim-born showjumper from riding her horses or using them in tournaments.

Ms Kuerten has ridden the Forbes' horses for more than eight years and the five horses involved are held by her at her yard in Germany's Rhineland. These include her top ride Castle Forbes Libertina, and also recent Mechelen World Cup winner Castle Forbes Mrytille Paulois.

Heiress Lady Forbes is an Irish citizen who visits her Longford mansion, which has its own airstrip, several times a year but lives in Switzerland. She was confirmed in 2006 as the number one owner of showjumping horses in the world after her horse Castle Forbes Libertina finished second at the World Cup final in Kuala Lumpur, ridden by Ms Kuerten. Another horse, Castle Forbes Maike, finished in the top 20 at the Olympics in Athens before that.

However, that outstanding partnership appeared to be at an end after Lady Forbes, whose land around Newtownforbes was granted to the Forbes family in 1621, issued a statement through her spokesperson and German-based lawyer Eva Jacob saying: "The truth is that the contract with Ms Kuerten was terminated by Lady Forbes as of December 31, 2010.

"After Ms Kuerten refused -- in violation of contractual obligations -- to hand over the horses to the owner Lady Forbes after the contract had come to an end, Lady Forbes explicitly fobade her to take part in tournaments with the horses."

Ms Jacob added: "Since Ms Jessica Kuerten refused to surrender Lady Forbes' horses, Lady Forbes was forced to seek legal support in Germany. A temporary injunction is pending, further legal action will follow.

"Ms Jessica Kuerten doesn't have any claims concerning Lady Forbes. Claims raised by Ms Kuerten after the end of the contract don't have any basis. In case Ms Kuerten does not revoke these allegations, Lady Forbes will seek clarification in court concerning this case as well."

The spokeswoman also claimed that Ms Kuerten refused to allow a complete examination of the horses by a vet selected by Lady Forbes.

"Ms Kuerten explicitly refuses to allow this veterinarian to take a blood sample or, respectively, to hand over a blood sample taken in his presence," she said.

Ms Kuerten had said that her former staunch supporter had made a "decision not to allow the horses, which include the highly successful mare Castle Forbes Libertina, to compete at horse shows".

In a statement issued to a German website, Ms Kuerten pointed out that she was unsure what would happen to the five horses and that she didn't know if, and when, they would be returned to their owner.

She cited "financial commitments which need to be cleared up", adding that "there are diverse details, also for the German tax authorities, which need to be sorted out due to the fact that Lady Georgina Forbes is Irish and lives in Switzerland".

Lady Forbes denied this version of events but Ms Kuerten, who is competing in Zurich this weekend said that "it goes without question that the horses from Lady Georgina Forbes will continue to be provided for and cared for".

Her patron, Lady Forbes' home Castle Forbes was the home of Lord and Lady Granard, and Lady Forbes has been described as a quiet and unassuming individual who never courts publicity.

Sunday Independent