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Patrick Springer, Published October 23 2009

Judge grants restraining order in horse breed dispute

A federal judge is temporarily barring a group from registering wild horses removed from Theodore Roosevelt National Park under the Nokota breed.

The temporary restraining order issued by U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland involves horses to be auctioned today at a Dickinson, N.D., livestock exchange.

The case involves a trademark dispute between the Nokota Horse Conservancy, established 10 years ago, and the rival Nokota Horse Association, formed in 2005.

The Nokota horse, a unique breed descended from horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, was recognized as North Dakota’s state equine in 1993.

The Nokota Horse Conservancy, based in Linton, N.D., filed a lawsuit alleging trademark infringement against the Nokota Horse Association.

About 165 horses were rounded up earlier this week from the park, which trimmed the herd to prevent overgrazing.

Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor said about 80 horses will be sold at the auction, and another 85 were returned to the park.

The Nokota Horse Association’s breed registry is based on a broader definition of what qualifies as a Nokota horse than the Nokota Horse Conservancy.

Any horse that comes from the park is considered a Nokota by the association, while the conservancy’s registry requires bloodlines that precede the introduction of domestic horse breeds in the 1980s, among other factors.

“We need to protect the integrity and history of the breed, and the conservancy,” said Frank Kuntz of Linton, one of the officers of the conservancy.

By the conservancy’s criteria, only 11 horses in the park have bloodlines it considers qualify them as Nokotas, and six were removed and are slated for auction, Kuntz said.

The conservancy has registered more than 1,300 Nokota horses, according to court records.

David Robson of Hayfield, Minn., who is active with the Nokota Horse Association, said outside horses also were introduced to the park decades before the 1980s.

“Does any of that count?” he asked. “Our goal is to preserve the horse.”

In his ruling, Hovland concluded that the conservancy had a valid protected trademark, and the association’s sale of Nokota breed registrations competes with the conservancy’s registry.

Hovland also found that the conservancy likely would suffer “irreparable harm” if the temporary restraining order was not granted, barring the association from registering horses sold at today’s auction.

Arguments in the dispute will continue Thursday in a hearing in U.S. District Court in Bismarck. The association, which denies trademark infringement and other allegations, is seeking dismissal of the case.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522