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Some of his more promising and dedicated students travel with him along the East Coast horse-showing circuit: Wellington; Culpeper, Virginia; the Hamptons in New York; and Raleigh, North Carolina. He also travels frequently with his students and other clients to Europe, when asked, to advise them when they happen to be in the market for a new horse. Show fees are less expensive across the pond, so even though the euro is holding steadily stronger than the dollar, young, quality, ripe-for-training fillies and colts — which typically run $30,000 to $500,000 — can be bought for less in Holland and Germany. Muente's clients pay his airfare and expenses on these buying trips; that's the typical arrangement when a moneyed, wannabe owner enlists the assistance of an equine expert. And as an adviser, Muente also sometimes charges a commission.

Judith Arnett is a thin, compact woman in her early 30s, with dirty-blond hair combed straight down in a neat bob that falls precisely at her shoulders. She became such a client of Muente's after the two met at a Raleigh horse show in July 2004. Arnett struck up a casual friendship with Muente. They began talking while he was browsing her Equestrian Shop, a traveling tack store she hauls to major horse shows along the East and West coasts. In business for seven years, Arnett sells everything a good show horse and showman would need — bridles, blankets, britches, jackets, and boots. Early on, she offered to sponsor Muente and give him equipment in exchange for his wearing her shop's logo.

It was a fairly simple deal the two made on a handshake. Arnett has been riding horses and competing since she was a girl. She dropped out of college to pursue her hobby and turned her love of the sport into a successful business. Muente was a popular rider, so, Arnett reasoned, his endorsement would boost her sales.

It worked, and the two grew closer. By October 2005, Arnett and Muente were boarding an airplane to Amsterdam for a four-day trip to Holland and Germany.

And that's when things started getting complicated.

What the two can still agree on is that during their first European sortie, they stumbled across the son of Muente's stallion and brokered a deal to buy him. They acknowledge that both of them own a piece of the 5-year-old Hanoverian stallion named Ace of Grace, also called As Di Bambino and nicknamed "Bam Bam." But they cannot agree on who owns how much of an interest or when and how they came to own him together. The details of their broken friendship and tattered business relationship are playing out in a West Palm Beach courtroom, where they've asked a federal judge to sort it out.

But their versions of events are so different that last month they had U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Marra sputtering, frowning, scratching his head, and staring down the clock.

"Every time someone testifies," Marra said, "it changes."

Muente's image isn't lost on Arnett's lawyer; on the first day of an emergency three-day hearing in court last month, Arnett's lawyer had to pose the Big Question.

"Was it romantic?" asks L. Martin Reeder Jr., an attorney who counts the Palm Beach Post as one of his biggest clients.

"No, not at all," Arnett responds. "There was nothing romantic. He's very charming, charismatic. I trusted him. We were very good friends — we'd go to dinner, I'd stay at his house."

Under oath, her voice is as flat as summer swamp water.

Not five minutes before answering this, her lawyer's third question, Arnett had shot Muente a scowl as she took the witness stand.

Even in her well-fitted beige skirt-suit, the horsewoman in Arnett is evident. It's cold inside this wood-paneled courtroom, but Arnett never slouches. She holds her back rod-straight. At about five feet tall, her stride is short, but her gait is confident.

Their four-day trip to Europe in October 2005 was a vacation for her, she says. She never intended to buy any horses. They'd heard about some "babies" Muente's stallion had sired via artificial insemination and thought it would be fun to see them. As Di Villagana's frozen sperm is still available for sale on the Internet.

Sure, she bought his plane ticket. But, she testifies, he was supposed to pay her back.

"He never did," she says.

To this, an attractive brunet slouching in the spectator benches perks up, puts down the novel she has been reading, and scoffs. Soon, Arnett would have her laughing derisively.

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Kelly Cramer

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