Public transcripts from the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario reveal a massive lawsuit that Equestrian Canada president, Jorge Bernhard, has filed against Shandiss McDonald, the widow of Jordan McDonald, who died in a fall in competition in England on June 14, 2014.
The suit involves the 14-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Rockfield Grant Juan (“Juan”), which Bernhard purchased in 2010 for €7,500 in Europe on the advice of, and allegedly in partnership with, the McDonalds. Bernhard now wants to take full possession of the horse and is seeking $600,000 in damages ($500,000 for theft and conversion; $25,000 in aggravated damages and $75,000 in punitive damages).
According to court documents, the timeline of events leading up to this lawsuit includes:
• In November 2010, Bernhard traveled to Europe with the McDonalds and purchased Juan and three other Irish horses. Shandiss and Jordan took over their development, absorbing the training costs on the understanding that, among other conditions, the horses would be kept with them for the long-term and would not be sold out from under them, unless the decision to do so was made jointly.
• In October 2012, the parties agreed to modify their arrangement so that Bernhard’s regular monthly expenses for the four horses would be capped at $5,000, with the McDonalds covering all additional amounts (approximately $2,500-$3,000 per month).
• In May 2013, Bernhard advised the McDonalds that, due to his financial situation, he no longer wished to incur any expenses at all relating to the Irish horses. The McDonalds and Bernhard agreed that the McDonalds would assume all of the expenses going forward in exchange for being given one-third ownership, modifying that in the subsequent weeks when the Bernhards indicated they wished to maintain ownership over Porsch Pride and continued to pay some of that horse’s expenses, while the other three Irish horses were the exclusive responsibility of the McDonalds.
• On September 2013, the McDonalds left Canada with the horses to live and train in the UK.
• On June 14, 2014, Jordan died. Shandiss and the Bernhards agreed to sell Jordan’s two competition horses without issue, leaving her with Porsche Pride and Juan.
• Shandiss returned to Canada in the summer of 2015 with Juan. Around this time, the Bernhard’s advised Shandiss that Juan was an investment and this it was in everyone’s best interest to sell him and divide the proceeds. Shandiss did not think the request was consistent with their partnership agreement and, in particular, her one third ownership.
• On September 23, 2015, Bernhard filed an action against McDonald for damages, insisting that Juan immediately be returned to his possession, the latter which was denied by justice.
• On November 25, 2015, the court dismissed Bernhard’s motion for an interim order to have Juan returned to him immediately.
• On June 17, 2016, Bernhard failed in his leave to appeal (the permission of the court to appeal a previous decision) asking to have Juan returned to his possession.
It could be years before the trial hits the courts. Bernhard has retained high-profile lawyer Tim Danson (who has represented Eric Lamaze in the past); McDonald is being represented by Peter Howard, a former equestrian and husband of US show jumper Leslie Burr-Howard.
Both parties declined comment, noting that the matter was still active in the courts.