Judge orders partners to pony up and end horse hostage drama
The equines have been freed after a bitter, month-long collateral dispute
A Limpopo High Court judge has reined in two business partners involved in a bitter dispute over a horse safari enterprise.
Judge Gerrit Muller, delivering his judgment at the high court in Polokwane last week Monday, ordered that a tussle around 12 horses, held as collateral after a financial fallout between rhino conservationist and breeder Derek Lewitton and Horse Safari Company owner Tamlyn Whitebread, be settled.
The dispute, which saw Whitebread launch an urgent court application for the return of her horses, began in December when she ran foul of Lewitton, who owns Black Rock Rhino Sanctuary in Limpopo, after she failed to pay him R150,000 for rental, guest accommodation fees and hay for her 12 horses.
Lewitton, a US businessman, in court documents said it had cost him R720 a day to feed each of her horses, Fraser, Jack, Publo, Viking, Diago, Bo, Kayalami, Arnold, Aldebaran, Trigger, Gordon and Mauser.
Muller, slapping Lewitton with an order to pay the costs of the case, ordered the horses be returned to Whitebread and that she provide R25,000 in surety for the alleged debt. The debt amount is to be heard in another court case.
The two, who had been in partnership since September last year, split after they accused each other of reneging on the deal that would have seen Whitehead operate her horse safari company – which targets wealthy overseas clients – on Lewitton’s conservancy.
In return, Lewitton would have provided luxury accommodation and meals for the guests, and stabled the horses that would also be used for antipoaching patrols.
In court papers Whitebread said Lewitton illegally took her horses, which were her sole income source.
“He promised clients and veterinarian students from Harvard and Yale universities … He told me he is a lawyer from the US and has such contacts.
“There were already international bookings, and I marketed the safari to various agents to secure more bookings. Problems arose when guests started to arrive, and meals and accommodation were either not up to standard or nonexistent.
“At the end of December I realised the venture will undoubtedly fail as Lewitton was not fulfilling his end of the bargain,” the statement read.
She said common ground seemed to have been found in January, but a dispute over finances arose with her being stopped from collecting her horses.
“There was never an agreement to pay for grass. Lewitton insisted we need not bring our own feed as he has grass bales for such purpose.”
Whitebread said the horses, “just like a small child”, needed constant and meticulous care.
Lewitton, arguing in court papers, said he held the horses as “collateral” because of Whitebread’s debt.
He said the agreement was that Whitehead would keep 12 horses in a paddock on the conservancy and she could use a portion of a house as her base of operations.
“Whitebread could operate there as long as her clients stayed in our accommodation … clients were to be charged up to R5,000 per night, with Black Rock providing food and accommodation and Whitebread sourcing and managing clients.
“We were meant to get six guests a night, but only had guests four times after she moved her horses onto the conservancy from October. Whitebread claims that she issued discounts to many of the clients.”
He said when inquiries were made about when they would receive the money, R4,500 was paid over.
By granting the alleged discounts, Whitebread breached the agreement, Lewitton claimed in the court papers.
The claim for amounts owed to Black Rock for the agreed share of the revenue, plus the unpaid feed costs, is about R150,000.
Lewitton said after discussions with Whitebread, he could see she was “not going uphold her end of the deal”.
“Whitebread was not concerned about her horses’ well-being. There is absolutely no threat to the horses’ well-being. Their situation is, in fact, far more attractive than anything Whitebread ever offered them.”
Lewitton told the court he had informed Whitebread he would cut her a break “if we could settle this quickly”.
Whitebread told Times Select that she was relieved the ordeal was over.
“I got my babies back last week.”
Lewitton said all they had ever wanted was the money owed to the reserve, “as they exist to save rhino”.