Rothenberger Family Claims Cosmo Damaged by Vet Malpractice, Sues for €8/US$9 Million, Vet Records Reportedly Show Years of Treatments

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Sönke Rothenberger on Cosmo celebrating World Equestrian Games team gold at Tryon in September. Cosmo has been competed twice since then. © 2018 Ken Braddick/

July 30, 2019


The selection of Sönke Rothenberger and Cosmo for the German team for the European Championships next month is reported to have been clouded by veterinary reports of treatment of the Olympic gold medal horse that emerged in response to a lawsuit filed by the Rothenberger family involving the value of the gelding.

The Rothenbergers are suing the veterinarians who treated Cosmo for €8/US$9 million alleging malpractice administering a drug for the German team Olympic and World Equestrian Games gold medal horse. The lawsuit claims the alleged treatment could cause kidney problems and significantly reduce the value of the 12-year-old KWPN gelding. The suit included vet opinions about possible future issues but no actual findings.

Knowledge of the lawsuit involving the popular horse and rider has become widespread in recent weeks. It is reported to have led to the disclosure of several pages of single spaced veterinary treatment records of Cosmo over the three years of the horse’s Grand Prix career ridden by Sönke, 24 years old.

The records in possession of the German federation show at least 80 treatments, the sources said, for joint and ligament issues. A factor is whether all the treatments were recorded by the Rothenbergers as required by the federation for team horses.

The German federation said in response to a request by for comment it had knowledge of the lawsuit.

“But we are not involved in it and therefore we cannot provide you with any information on it,” a spokesperson said.

The German federation is to announce by the end of this week the nation’s dressage team for the European Championships in Rotterdam August 19-25.

Sönke and Cosmo are reported by sources to be on the long list for the team after winning performances with scores well above 80% in both the Grand Prix and the Special at the World Equestrian Festival CDI4* in Aachen, Germany less than two weeks ago. Reports of the existence of the treatment records is reported by sources to have raised questions among selectors about choosing the pair for the team.

Isabell Werth on Bella Rose, Dorothee Schneider on Showtime and Jessica von Bredow-Werndl on TSF Dalera BB are considered top team prospects.

Sönke Rothenberger on Cosmo celebrating victory in the Aachen CDI4* Grand Prix Special this month. © 2019 Ken Braddick/

Sönke and Cosmo, an international partnership going back to 2014 when the duo were champions at the European Young Rider Championships, earned team gold at the 2016 Olympics when Cosmo was nine years old and at the 2017 European Championships where they became one of only five combinations in the world at that time to have scored above 90%, which they did in the Freestyle. They went on to win team gold at the 2018 World Equestrian Games. The pair was ranked No. 2 in the world for seven months in 2017/18.

Since the Tryon championships last September, Cosmo has competed twice, not unusual for the horse–245 days elapsed between the 2017 European Championships to the next start at Hagen, Germany at the end of April, 2018.

The lawsuit was filed in the name of Gonnelien Rothenberger, Sönke’s mother. Gonnelien and Sven, her husband who coaches Sönke and his two sisters, both competed for the Netherlands at Olympics and World Games.

The filing in Frankfurt District Court is against Tierärztliches Kompetenzzentrum Karthaus GmbH in Dülmen, 300 km/180 miles from the Rothenberger farm near Frankfurt where Cosmo and Sönke were based.

The case was filed three weeks before a fire destroyed the Rothenberger family stables and the riding arena, killing five horses. Cosmo was in the stable at the time and led to safety by Sönke.

The final salute for Totilas by rider Matthias Alexander Rath at the 2015 European Championships. File photo. © Ken Braddick/

Awareness of the treatment and care of sport horses heightened after the highly publicized withdrawal of Totilas from the 2015 European Championships in Aachen, Germany following the Grand Prix in which spectators booed the judges for not eliminating the stallion for appearing uneven. Totilas was retired from competition after the championships. German selectors were sharply criticized for apparently not thoroughly vetting Totilas before naming the horse to the championship team.

One of the drugs used in the treatment of Cosmo was the bisphosphonate medication trade named Tildren that is on the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) Equine Prohibited Substances List as a Controlled Medication but widely used around the world. The active ingredient is tiludronate disodium that is administered intravenously for 90 minutes. The manufacturer reports it is designed to  counter navicular changes, especially those that cause pain and are typically associated with gait change or lameness, often aggravated when walking on hard ground or trotting circles.

The suit alleges there were errors by the veterinarian in the administration of Tildren and mixed with other drugs to deal with negative effects in 2018 that caused acute renal problems for Cosmo. As a result, compensation was sought for all past and future damage allegedly caused by the treatment.

Tierärztliches Kompetenzzentrum Karthaus GmbH, the clinic in Dülmen, Germany.

The Rothenbergers and Ralph Uwe Westhoff, joint owners of Cosmo, are claiming €8/US$9 million as compensation.

A hearing on the lawsuit has been tentativejy set for September, a month after the European Championships.