Dispute over two uninsured horses worth up to €4.5 million comes before High Court

Man claims former partner brought horses, one pre-selected for Olympic Games, to Waterford so they would be beyond his reach

An Italian woman being sued by her former partner and his company over the movement of two valuable horses to Ireland claims she owns a 50 per cent share of the animals.

The horses are a grey stallion, 'Milton', pre-selected to represent Belgium in next year's Olympic Games, and a gelding, 'Diego', expected to compete in the next European Championships. They are worth an estimated €4 to €4.5m.

Last week, the court granted Mexican businessman Jose Alfredo Hernandez Ortega and his company, Leeston Enterprises SA, who claim they own the horses, a temporary injunction preventing the horses being sold or moved out of Ireland.

The proceedings are against Mr Ortega's former partner Martina Romagnoli, and several Irish registered companies of which she allegedly is the sole director.


It is alleged Ms Romagnoli uses the companies to operate a business, Bunmahon Sporthouse Stud and Insemination Centre, in Co Waterford.

The proceedings are also against Richard Fitzgerald and Ballinasisla Stud Ltd, a company which he owns and controls.

It is also alleged Mr Fitzgerald is the secretary of Ms Romagnoli’s Irish registered companies.

The orders were granted after Italian-based Mr Ortega claimed his former parter removed several horses, which he claims are his, from a stud farm in Belgium, owned by her, without his consent. He claims the two horses were taken to Ireland with a view to putting them beyond his reach.

When the case returned before Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds on Thursday, Bernard Dunleavy SC, instructed by solicitor Michael Kavanagh of LK Shields, for the plaintiffs, said it has been confirmed both horses are at a stud farm in Co Waterford.

Counsel said his side, while ultimately seeking an order directing the horses be returned, was also seeking to have receivers appointed over the horses to look after them pending the outcome of the action.

Ross Aylward BL, instructed by Gavin Simons of Amoss Solicitors, for the defendants, said Ms Romagnoli was taking the matter "extremely seriously" and wants it heard as soon as possible.

Her case is that she owns 50 per cent of each of the two horses, counsel said.

While she was prepared to leave the injunctions in place, she was opposed to the “novel” application by the plaintiffs to appoint receivers over the horses.

Ms Romagnoli has a considerable reputation as a trainer in the showjumping world, and had worked with horses that participated in the Olympic Games, he said.

Having the horses put under the control of receivers would damage her reputation, counsel added.

Counsel also said no semen had been taken from Milton by his clients.

While an application to have the dispute admitted to the fast track commercial court list will be made, it was hoped, given the past relationship between the couple, and that they have a child together, that mediation might be considered, Mr Aylward added.

Ms Justice Reynolds adjourned the matter to later this month to allow the defendants reply to the application to appoint receivers over the horses.

The judge, noting concerns raised by Mr Dunleavy over the fact the horses are not currently insured, directed the parties' solicitors to liaise over getting coverage for the animals.

The judge also directed the defendants’ solicitors to retain both horses’ passports for the duration of the proceedings.