"Today, Tennessee Walking Horses are known throughout the industry
as the breed that shows abused and tortured horses."

~ Jim Heird, Ph.D., Do Right By The Horse, February 2010

"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity,
you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men."

~ St. Francis of Assisi

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

NEWS and ARTICLES: Judge Makes Decision for McConnell's Actions Until Trial

Sorry that I'm a bit late posting this information, folks.  I have a big surprise for all of you starting next week that I've been working on.  However, here's the latest on the McConnell case (click for the article from the Shelbyville Times-Gazette).  I copied and pasted the article below.  I'm really happy about this decision.  I imagine that McConnell's only form of income is boarding and "training," so this may still allow him to make money.  I don't think he can be denied making a living.  But, because this decision is so detailed, this means that this judge cares about the law and upholding it.  So no matter how good McConnell's lawyers are, the judge sees this as a serious offense and wants to make sure it's clear that he can't train horses before the trial.

Judge places limits on horse trainer facing horse soring charges
March 24, 2012
by Todd South

A 60-year-old Tennessee walking horse trainer charged in a lengthy federal indictment of abusing horses may remain free before his trial, but he cannot train horses owned by others.

Jackie McConnell, of Collierville, Tenn., faces a 52-count indictment involving charges of conspiracy and violations of the U.S. Horse Protection Act.

Federal defendants in nonviolent criminal cases commonly are allowed to remain free with little restriction as they prepare for trial.

But new details filed Friday morning, hours before McConnell's hearing in federal court, alarmed U.S. Magistrate Judge Bill Carter enough that he asked attorneys to find a compromise in order for McConnell to keep his freedom.

"The court is concerned there is an ongoing, consistent kind of problem," Carter told the attorneys.

One of the charges against McConnell is for horse soring, the technique of using chemical or mechanical means such as kerosene or bolts to tenderize horses' feet, producing an exaggerated gait for walking horse shows.

"Your client is not entitled to be out on bond where he can injure an animal," Carter said Friday. "I can't have horse soring and, if we have horse soring, I will put him in jail."

Two local attorneys hired by McConnell, Hugh Moore and Tom Greenholtz, argued in a March 15 hearing before Carter that, in order for their client to remain free on alleged charges, he shouldn't have to allow warrantless searches by investigators and also stop training horses he doesn't own, conditions that prosecutors want.

Three other co-defendants -- Jeff Dockery, 56; John Mays, 47; and Joseph Abernathy, 29 -- face some of the charges in the indictment as McConnell. On March 15, those three were released under many of the same conditions offered McConnell. Their trial is set for May 22.

Dockery and Abernathy are Collierville residents, while Mays is from Olive Branch, Miss.

McConnell faces the most charges and is depicted as the leader of a scheme to sore Tennessee walking horses before and during shows from 2006 until 2011. During the time of the alleged soring, McConnell was on a five-year suspension for previous soring-related violations, and he's accused of showing the animals in competitions by using the names of other men on his entry forms.

It was not his first suspension. In a 12-page brief to support restrictions in return for McConnell's freedom, prosecutors alleged that he had been suspended from the horse industry at least 13 times since 1979. One suspension took place on Sept. 9, 1985, the year before he was named "Trainer of the Year" by the national Walking Horse Trainers Association.

While Carter dealt with other cases on his docket on Friday, prosecutors Steve Neff and Kent Anderson negotiated with Moore and Greenholtz over restrictions for McConnell.

Among the agreed conditions, both the horse trainer and the federal government will each select a veterinarian to inspect his horses. The veterinarians will produce a report on the animals' condition, then perform weekly inspections of the horses as long as McConnell remains free awaiting trial.

He's not allowed to train any horses he does not own.

In return, investigators must obtain a warrant or have probable cause to search McConnell's property, as they would under most circumstances.

Monday, March 19, 2012

RESEARCH and HOW YOU CAN HELP - My Submittals for the Listening Sessions and USDA Survey; More Articles Concerning the McConnell and Davis Cases;

Submittals for the Listening Sessions and USDA APHIS Survey

Next Listening Sessions are this week!
March 22 – 9am to 1pm; Doubletree Ontario Airport, 222 N. Vineyard Avenue, Ontario, CA 91764
March 23 – 9am to 1pm; Phoenix Inn Suites, 3410 Spicer Road SE, Albany, OR 97322

Click here for more information and the list of upcoming listening sessions

So I've gotten a few questions on what would be the best way to approach speaking at a listening session and the USDA APHIS Survey.  I decided to go ahead and post what I've written to help you with your submittal and/or speech.  Although I plan to attend a listening session, I might not be able to go due to my work schedule.  So I decided to write in my response anyway just to be safe.

The biggest issue here is that we need to get sound horse supporters’ butts in the seats at these sessions!  The industry will be out in force trying to get the USDA to keep things as is and to keep their control in supporting the sore horse.  So in case I’m unable to attend a listening session, I wanted to at least post my answers to the USDA’s questions regarding soring so they can help all of you out there make educated presentations yourselves.  The advice I have for everyone here is pretty basic, and I hope it makes sense.

1. Write your own speech or submittal.  This is the most important bullet point out of this list.  Don't just copy mine or someone else's and turn it in.  The USDA needs to see real information from each individual person.  Use what I'm posting here as an example, not what you should turn in.

2. Do what you can to back up your arguments with facts and information.  While we all know that soring is still the way most horses back east are trained, we still need to be able to prove it using facts and scientific studies.

3. Be logical and reasonable in your arguments.  Getting upset or emotional does not help the cause.  While we all want to see soring end and it is horrible that horses are being tortured for the sake of a blue ribbon, we need to remember that this is a law we want to see upheld, not just a moral and ethical issue we’re dealing with.

4. Share your personal experiences.  It’s not a good idea to name names as you can get attacked or even sued for it, but personal experiences are also evidence.  However, don’t share what you’ve heard; share only what you’ve actually experienced.

5. Don’t hold back.  From what I understand, the industry is relying on personal attacks, childish name calling, and information that has no facts to back it up.  So feel free to say whatever you feel is necessary to expose the truth.


My Listening Sessions Response

Q: Congress passed the Horse Protection Act in 1970 to eliminate the cruel and inhumane practice of soring horses. How close are we to achieving the goal?

A: Nowhere near close.  While soring is not nearly as visible as it was in the late 70s and 80s, we now know that the industry has found new ways to hide their chemical and mechanical soring.  The recent release of the USDA’s GC/MS 2010 and 2011 test results is proof that the industry is still using whatever chemicals they find to create pain to force the show ring gait.  The arrests of Barney Davis, et. al. and Jackie McConnell, et. al. are proof that pressure shoeing and chemical and mechanical soring are still alive and well.

Q:  Can the industry achieve a consensus on how to carry out a self-regulatory program to enforce the Horse Protection Act in a consistent way?

A:  Absolutely not.  They can’t even agree on one rulebook—they have to have 12 different HIOs to do the job that the USDA could do by itself if it chose to.  The industry makes a lot of money off of the sore horse, and therefore they want to keep it as is.  The USDA has available on its website a list titled “Responsible Party for Horse Found in Violation.”  (Web address: http://acissearch.aphis.usda.gov/HPA/faces/pdf.jspx?rt=1&sd=&ed=&hio=ALL.) This list has many fake names of horses and trainers and is clearly made to satisfy the USDA and make it look like they’re catching hundreds of people.  But why do so many of these names and horses not show up on the HPA database?  Because they aren’t real.  So the HIOs are incapable of doing what’s right.  The HIOs are designed to work in the best interest of those who sore horses, not for the welfare of the horse.

Overall the HIOs are the self-regulatory program that is already in place.  However, nine of the 12 are clearly a case of the fox guarding the hen house.  Soring has not stopped in the 40-plus years since the HPA was enacted, and it certainly hasn’t stopped since the HIOs were formed.  Therefore they are absolutely unable to enforce the HPA on their own.

Q:  What responsibilities should USDA-certified Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs) have within the industry?

A:  The HIOs have plenty of responsibility already.  In fact, they have too much responsibility, due to the fact that soring is still the prominent way to train horses.  As Barney Davis said: horses “have got to be sored to walk.” So they’re going to be happy to promote and encourage it but tell everyone how they are against soring.  The problem is that the HIOs won’t take on the responsibility of working to stop soring.

Q:  How can the industry reconcile its inherent competition aspect with ensuring compliance with the Horse Protection Act?

A:  Obviously, they can start by stopping soring.  They also need to accept that the look of the Performance horse is undesirable to the outside world and the rest of the horse community frowns on it, whether or not the horse is sored, and that it needs to change so their industry will survive.  When the world knows about soring and doesn’t like the look of what is being produced in the show ring, then they aren’t going to get enough new blood into the industry to keep it up.  Competition is fine, but when you can't get new people to be interested in it because what you're competing with is undesirable and you are abusing animals to do it, the industry will collapse within itself.  The industry needs to stop giving HPA violators high positions in their organizations and associations, such as board of directors and officers’ positions.  They need to stop promoting sore horse trainers, owners and breeders by sending their horses to them for training and cheering them on at shows.  They need to punish judges for rewarding the horse that is doing the most rather then the horse that is showing fluidity and quality of gait.  If the industry was truly against soring, they would make those who sore an embarrassment to the breed.  But since they won’t do it, then the USDA needs to step in.
Q: What can USDA do now (and in the future) to ensure compliance?

A: The USDA has been given an extra $200,000-plus for 2012 to enforce the HPA.  Therefore, I suggest going to every single show you hear about, whether publicly advertised or not.  Spend your money wisely—stay in cheap hotels, and rent cheap cars if you have to.  Do not rely on the HIOs to perform the inspections while the USDA is there; have the VMOs do the inspections instead of the HIOs.  Film and time all inspections—do not spend more time on one horse than another so you cannot be accused of spending 20 minutes on one horse or digging your nail into a horse’s pastern to elicit a response.  Start using hoof testers on every single horse that is flat shod.  Require horses to have their shoes pulled in front of the DQP immediately after their last class of the day and test the hooves with hoof testers.  I understand that the mandated penalties are going to become a requirement.  I hope that this means that the USDA will follow up with every single violation recorded by the HIOs and make sure they are followed to the letter.  It should also be required that the violators serve their suspensions during show season and not during the off season.  As compiled by FOSH, 90% of all HPA violations in 2008, 2009 and 2010 were found on stacked horses.  This means the industry has and is continuing to abuse the privilege of using stacks in the show ring.  Since the industry seems unable to stop using pads, then limit the size of the pads to the same size that is used in the American Saddlebred industry.  Put a 5-inch limit on the toe from the cornet band to the ground (including the shoe).  Put a weight limit on the shoes.  Remove chains and anything around the pasterns from the show ring.

I also believe that the USDA should no longer punish the innocent.  FOSH, NWHA and IWHA have proven they have a no tolerance policy concerning sored horses.  Therefore, removing saddles should no longer be required and pulling shoes should not be required by those HIOs.

Q: What responsibilities should USDA have within the industry with respect to enforcement and what hinders oversight of the HIOs and/or industry?

A: Your responsibilities are already set: to enforce the HPA by any means necessary.  From the Horse Protection Act:

§1827. Utilization of personnel of Department of Agriculture and officers and employees of consenting States; technical and other nonfinancial assistance to State
(a) Assistance from Department of Agriculture and States
The Secretary, in carrying out the provisions of this chapter, shall utilize, to the maximum extent practicable, the existing personnel and facilities of the Department of Agriculture. The Secretary is further authorized to utilize the officers and employees of any State, with its consent, and with or without reimbursement, to assist him in carrying out the provisions of this chapter.
(b) Assistance to States
The Secretary may, upon request, provide technical and other nonfinancial assistance (including the lending of equipment on such terms and conditions as the Secretary determines is appropriate) to any State to assist it in administering and enforcing any law of such State designed to prohibit conduct described in section 1824 of this title.

This means you need to get within the industry to enforce the law.  What hinders oversight are the continued meetings, listening sessions, and time spent “discussing” what to be done.  Instead of talking about it, get out there and do it.  Stop accepting invitations to come visit and talk and start spending your money and time in the field.  When you go to these meetings, you will always hear about how all of these people agree with you that they want to see soring end.  They’re just trying to placate you and get them off their backs.  The industry has had 40-plus years to end soring—they have not done it by now, and they never will.  These are people who truly believe they are doing nothing wrong and enjoy thwarting the USDA at every turn.  The abuse is part of their culture and is accepted as normal and expected.  Overall, the bottom line is cops don’t have meetings with drug dealers to discuss how to end the war on drugs—they get out there and do the work to catch them.  You need to be doing the same.

Q:  Should there be a prohibition of all action devices?

A:  Yes.  The industry clearly still uses chemical soring to achieve the desired gait.  You learned this from the arrest of Jackie McConnell, et. al.  They need the chain or an action device of some kind around the pastern to cause pain from the chemicals.

Dr. Molly Nicodemus produced a study in 2000 on gait analysis that proves that another under a 10-ounce chain does nothing to enhance the front leg action of the horse.  “Use of heavy weights (10 oz or 283 g) pastern chain weights significantly increased stride duration at the walk, but lower weights or pastern straps did not.  Additional changes in hoof flight arc and head displacements were associated with heavy weights.”  (Click below thumbnail for a larger image.)
This means that the restricted size to the six-ounce chain that is used in the show ring does not affect the gait by itself.  Therefore, we can deduce that chemicals must be being used on the horse’s pasterns for the chain to cause pain to force the horse to react.

The USDA’s results of the GC/MS tests for 2010 and 2011 also clearly reflect that chemicals are still being used to sore horses, and at an alarming rate.  We can question why these harmful chemicals are present, but it is clear that in order for the chemical to work, the chains must be used to force a reaction.  The alarming amount of Lidocaine means that it was being used to numb the horse during inspection but so it would wear off by the time the horse was in the show ring, making the chain effective against the remaining chemicals.

The following conversation was copied and pasted from an open chat group on Facebook, written on February 27, 2012.  No changes have been made to the conversation, other than I have used initials to protect the guilty.

If we could have 10oz chains would soring increase or decrease ?

S.W. more scar rule tickets perhaps

S.G. It would depend on how good you take care of your feet or I should say pastern area. If you have a good foot person, then they would know how to keep the hair in and keep the scaring down. Many do not understand you have to have a foot person who knows how to keep the pastern area in shape. I also acknowledge that sometimes you can not advoid the hair loss and or scaring that happens. But if you increase your chain weight, then you should not have to use as much "stimulant". Just my opinion, and yes I worked in the industry for years. I worked for Wink Groover, Billy Gray, Joe Martin, Chad Way and Herbert Derickson so I know what it takes.

S.W. Wasn't the 6 oz chain was put in place to eliminate the need for a stimulant..?

S.G. Yes it was, at least that was what they intended. But as many of us know.........

S.W. Neither side wants to give an Ounce LOL

S.G. No Steve they do not.

J.H. The maximum chain weight was 10 ounces until during the 1988 Trainer's Show, which was in progress in Decatur, AL when one of the humane groups got a federal judge in Washington to ban action devices. This caused the last night of the show to be cancelled, and for once the so-called "TWH Industry" seemed to unite. Long story short, within a relatively short period of time the maximum chain weight went from 10 to 6 ounces. Also, this was when the shoeing regulations were changed, and the maximum height of the build-up dropped from 4 to 3 inches. It's a simple equation: the heavier the chain, the less need there is for "stimulant"; the lighter the chain, the less damage is done to the hair.

This conversation is just one of hundreds that goes on all of the time on chat groups online.  The industry cannot deny the proof that horses are still being chemically sored.  Therefore, the chain and action devices in the show ring need to be prohibited.

Q:  Should there be a prohibition of pads?

A:  Yes.  As compiled by FOSH, 90 percent of all HPA violations in 2008, 2009 and 2010 were found on stacked horses.  It’s clear that the stacked horse is the most sored of the industry.  Plus, the stacks themselves are harmful to the horse, causing such damage as thrush, laminitis, sheered heels, quarter cracks, underrun heels, and “abnormal inflammation on the posterior aspect of the metacarpal area where the flexor bundle is located.”  (Quote taken from the letter from Dr. R. S. Sharman to Dr. Schwindaman of the USDA APHIS submitted with the Auburn Study, February 19, 1982.)  For example, an article from TheHorse.com titled “The Quest to Conquer Laminitis” (click here for link) explains the causes of laminitis.  The below image from the article shows how blood flow is restricted when a horse is forced to stand with its toes pointed downward, just as a stacked horse is shod.  (Click below thumbnail for a larger image.)

How Hoof Angle Affects Blood Flow, Image from TheHorse.com article titled "The Quest to Conquer Laminitis" by Christy M. West, May 1, 2007

However, since the industry can’t seem to let go of the pads, then I believe a limit on the size of the pads is appropriate.  The pads should be the same size and height that is used in the American Saddlebred industry.  This should also include a 5-inch limit on the toe from the cornet band to the ground (including the shoe), just as NWHA has done.

Q:  Currently the Horse Protection regulations have a shoe weight limit on yearlings. Should there now be a shoe weight limit for all aged horses?

A:  Absolutely.  At its most basic, doing this would create a level playing field for all riders in the various classes.  If a weight limit was established, then it would also eliminate bands from the show ring, as the excuse for using a band is that it is necessary to hold the shoe on the hoof when the shoe is too heavy.  Bands are also tools that are used in soring horses.  Bands can be over-tightened to put pressure on bruised soles of the horse’s feet or an object placed between the hoof and the shoe.  Bands were eliminated by NWHA and FOSH for this very reason.  Therefore, a weight limit for shoes is necessary to help enforce the HPA.


My APHIS Stakeholders Survey Response

1.  As we take stock of our current programs and services and consider where, if necessary, there should be strategic cuts or across-the-board reductions, we are interested in hearing from stakeholders about those APHIS activities you most value and where and how you think the Agency might make responsible changes.

In your opinion, what are the three to five most essential services APHIS provides and why?

1. Animal welfare inspections.  While animal welfare may not be important to some Americans, it is important for everyone to realize that the way an individual treats animals can reflect on how they will treat another human being.  Dr. Albert Schweitzer wrote: “Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives,” Robert K. Ressler, who specialized in developing profiles of serial killers for the FBI, stated: “Murderers … very often start out by killing and torturing animals as kids.”  (Data gathered from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals website.)  It’s also important to note that: “People abuse animals for the same reasons they abuse people. Some of them will stop with animals, but enough have been proven to continue on to commit violent crimes to people that it's worth paying attention to.”  (Quoted from Abuse Connection: The Link Between Animal Cruelty and Interpersonal Violence, Pet-Abuse.Com.)  Inspections such as those required by the Horse Protection Act (HPA) and the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) are essential in both upholding the law and prosecuting criminals who otherwise my move on to abuse of other human beings.

2. Animal health inspections.  The health of animals that are used for food and/or entertainment is also of grave importance to ensure the health of Americans.  Some illnesses that are found in food-grade animals can be passed on to humans, such as mad cow disease and swine flu.  Humans who take on animals for entertainment purposes have not only responsibility under law, but also a moral and ethical responsibility to care for those animals to their best ability.  How we treat animals reflects on our compassion and integrity as both individual persons and as a united nation of peoples.

3.  Plant health inspections.  Plant health is also important for the same reasons I gave in number 2.

Please share any feedback regarding how you feel we can best structure or provide these services.

Spend more time in the field.  While I understand resources are limited, perhaps now is the time to assign more work doing supervised inspections in the field to communicate the seriousness of these issues to those who have businesses that involve animal welfare and animal and plant inspections for health quality.  Talking about these issues does nothing to communicate to the public that the job is getting done.  Actions are required to show those who continue to abuse the privilege of providing food sources or using animals as entertainment that lax efforts to maintain the welfare and health of these items is not to be tolerated.

When you or your members seek APHIS’ assistance, do you primarily rely on our local field offices, State offices, regional offices, research centers and field stations, or headquarters for support?  Why?

I contact headquarters because I believe that the APHIS divisions are not doing enough to get the job done and are not acknowledging letters and emails requesting assistance and information.  Specifically concerning the HPA, it is obviously not being upheld to the extent necessary.  The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) Audit Report from September 2010 clearly states: “Concerning the treatment of show horses, we found that APHIS’ program for inspecting horses for soring is not adequate to ensure that these animals are not being abused.”  This should be a clear wake-up call to the APHIS that all aspects of inspection for animal welfare and health are not up to standard and need to be immediately addressed.  Therefore, I believe I need to contact the supervisors and the head of the APHIS in order to inform them that those in charge of the HPA are not doing their job and are still allowing sored horses to be shown on a massive scale.  Recently, the OIG, Department of Justice, and the Humane Society of the United States had to perform undercover work on Mr. Jackie McConnell to convict him of soring horses.  If he had been convicted and jailed for his multiple HPA violations in the past, then the APHIS would have been doing it’s job and the OIG would not have had to step in.

As we continue to look at ways to improve our processes and enhance customer service, what recommendations do you have for specific efforts we could undertake in 2012? 

At the very least, acknowledge when you have received any type correspondence.  Even an electronic email response is better than no acknowledgement at all.  While I understand that you probably receive thousands of forms of correspondence each week, it is vital to let the public know you are listening.  We think you’re not when we don’t ever hear from you.

Use your website as a tool for communication.  Post monthly updates on animal welfare cases as possible, have an email sign-up list for stakeholders, and organize your website better so that important information such as HPA lists of violators can be easily found.  Compile a database of the cases that went to court and the results of those cases.  Overall, a website is a powerful tool that can really keep an open-door policy for the APHIS.

2.  Given limited resources, APHIS is seeking new ways to enhance existing partnerships and build new ones.

How might we strengthen current partnerships or collaborate in new ways to accomplish critical mission activities?

My answer to this question concerns the partnership between the APHIS HPA division and the Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs) that are to be inspecting horses at horse shows to uphold the HPA.  The APHIS is currently holding Listening Sessions across the country concerning the HPA and how to better enforce it.  Below are two questions that were posed for these sessions and my answers to those questions.  I believe they are essential to the partnership between the APHIS HPA division and the HIOs.

Q:  Can the industry achieve a consensus on how to carry out a self-regulatory program to enforce the Horse Protection Act in a consistent way?

A:  Absolutely not.  They can’t even agree on one rulebook—they have to have 12 different HIOs to do the job that the USDA could do by itself if it chose to.  The industry makes a lot of money off of the sore horse, and therefore they want to keep it as is.  The USDA has available on its website a list titled “Responsible Party for Horse Found in Violation.”  (Web address: http://acissearch.aphis.usda.gov/HPA/faces/pdf.jspx?rt=1&sd=&ed=&hio=ALL.) This list has many fake names of horses and trainers and is clearly made to satisfy the USDA and make it look like they’re catching hundreds of people.  But why do so many of these names and horses not show up on the HPA database?  Because they aren’t real.  So the HIOs are incapable of doing what’s right.  The HIOs are designed to work in the best interest of those who sore horses, not for the welfare of the horse.

Overall the HIOs are the self-regulatory program that is already in place.  However, nine of the 12 are clearly a case of the fox guarding the hen house.  Soring has not stopped in the 40-plus years since the HPA was enacted, and it certainly hasn’t stopped since the HIOs were formed.  Therefore they are absolutely unable to enforce the HPA on their own.

Q:  What responsibilities should USDA-certified Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs) have within the industry?

A:  The HIOs have plenty of responsibility already.  In fact, they have too much responsibility, due to the fact that soring is still the prominent way to train horses.  As Barney Davis said: horses “have got to be sored to walk.” So they’re going to be happy to promote and encourage it but tell everyone how they are against soring.  The problem is that the HIOs won’t take on the responsibility of working to stop soring.

Do you see opportunities for APHIS, State governments, tribes, industry and academia to redefine traditional roles to find efficiencies or improvements in the way we collectively safeguard American agriculture?  As best you can, please be specific or provide examples.

Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about this topic to comment.  Thank you for the opportunity to do so.

3.  Please provide any additional comments or feedback you would like to share with APHIS’ leadership, especially as it relates to how you like to see APHIS management communicate with you at the local, regional, and national level.  Please be specific.

I don’t want to see more communication.  What I want to see is more action.  I would like to see USDA inspectors showing up at slaughterhouses, horse shows, circuses, zoos, and other venues covered under the welfare division of the APHIS.  The physical presence of government entities is vital to communicating the seriousness of these issues.  I also understand that many inspectors do not have supervisors accompanying them to these places, and therefore they allow issues to slip through the cracks.  For example, this video is a clear indication of how the USDA inspectors are not doing their job. http://youtu.be/LnlusPCzXI0  From the description of the video: “...A baby calf was carved up and skinned alive while a USDA FSIS (Food Safety Inspection Services) Inspector stood by and watched. 5 months later and the Vermont Attorney General's Office has failed to take criminal action against the workers for clear violations of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.”  The USDA APHIS has not only been tasked with upholding laws, but also the moral and ethical responsibility of making sure the health and welfare of animals and plants in this nation is upheld to the highest standards.  Actions will help bring about these changes, not continued meetings and communications.


More Articles Concerning the McConnell and Davis Cases

Davis Case
Trainer says horse soring is widespread.  By Todd South, Feb 28, 2012, timesfreepress.com.

McConnell Case
Talk Back: Horse Soring Investigation Shines a Light on Abuse.  By Wayne Pacelle, March 14, 2012, HSUS A Humane Nation Blog

4 men in federal court in horse-soring case.  By Todd South, March 16, 2012, timesfreepress.com

Indictment shines light on abuse allegations in Tennessee walking horse industry.  By Todd South, March 18, 2012, timesfreepress.com

Thursday, March 15, 2012

HOW YOU CAN HELP - Please Hurry and Fill Out This Survey!

I just found out about this survey the APHIS is doing today.  PLEASE take the time to fill it out!  I have heard that the sore horse industry is the one making the most noise right now, and politicians are listening to them because money talks.  So to save our breed, we need to act now!


From the email I received from the APHIS:

If you haven’t already, please take a moment to respond to APHIS’ Stakeholder Survey and share your thoughts about the Agency’s critical services and partnerships.  The survey will be accessible on our Web site through March 23:   http://www.aphis.usda.gov/stakeholders/stakeholder_survey.shtml  We’re interested in your perspective and we’ll be sharing an analysis of our findings with stakeholders later this spring.


And the next stakeholder meeting is in California.  Mark your calendars and plan to attend!
March 22 – 9am to 1pm; Doubletree Ontario Airport, 222 N. Vineyard Avenue, Ontario, CA 91764.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

NEWS and ARTICLES - USDA Secretary Signs Mandated Penalties; USDA 2010 & 2011 Sniffer Test Results

Secretary of Agriculture Signs Mandated Penalties

It's about time!  The Secretary of Agriculture has finally signed the mandated penalties in as an addition to the HPA.  As posted by the Walking Horse Report, and as received by all HIOs.

HIOs Informed of Impending Mandatory Penalties
Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On the joint Horse Industry Organization (HIO) call yesterday Dr. Rachel Cezar, USDA APHIS Horse Protection Coordinator, informed the representatives of the HIOs on the call that the Secretary of Agriculture had signed the Mandatory Penalty Rulemaking and it will be posted to the Federal Register within a week. This rulemaking had been expected for some time by industry leaders.

Until the rulemaking is posted the particulars surrounding the rulemaking will not be known. At this point it is not known exactly what it mandates, requires or says but typically a window of time would be given to implement a change such as this by the regulations.

A response from the industry is expected after the posting of the rulemaking in the Federal Register.

Basically, what this means is that the mandatory penalty structure must now be incorporated into all of the rulebooks of all HIOs, unless they already have more strict penalty rules in place (such as NWHA).  The mandatory penalties are now an extension of the HPA, just like the scar rule is.  If the HIO chooses not to incorporate the rules, then they will be responsible for any horses that are found sore at a show affiliated with them, as will the show management.  They can be fined and, if Dr. Gipson's threats are still valid, decertified as an HIO.

Click here to read the mandated penalties.

Also, does everyone remember when we had a call to action and we all went to regulations.gov to voice our opinion on the mandated penalties?  (Click here for the submittals.)  I don't know if those responses helped the Secretary make her decision, but overall, I like to think it did.  We stepped up for saving the horse, and we were heard, even if it was just a small bit.  This is where we need to keep our focus: keep stepping up and supporting ending soring with our voices, pens, and typing skills.  We are the voice for the horse, not the TWH industry.  We are capable of making the government understand that we want the law upheld and that enough is enough.  We can do this!


USDA Releases 2010 and 2011 "Sniffer" Test Results

Since 2008, the USDA has been using gas chromatography-mass spetrometry (GC/MS) technology to "sniff" out chemicals being used on horses' pasterns in the show ring.  The USDA released the 2010 and 2011 results this week, and they are quite astounding.  From the email I received ("-caines" are numbing agents.)

2010 Celebration:
Of 302 total samples, 261 (86.4%) positive for foreign substance, and 106 (35.1%) positive for –caines

2010 Trainers Show:
Of 20 total samples, 18 (90%) positive for foreign substance, and 8 (40%) positive for –caines

2010 All shows:
Of 357 total samples, 308 (86.3) positive for foreign substance, and 117 (32.8%) positive for –caines

2011 Celebration:
Of 52 total samples, 52 (100%) positive for foreign substance, and 37 (71.2%) positive for –caines

2011 Trainers Show:
Of 13 total samples, 12 (92%) positive for foreign substance, and 7 (54%) positive for –caines

2011 Fun Show:
Of 20 total samples, 19 (95%) positive for foreign substance, and 12 (60%) positive for –caines

Seems that 98% compliance rate has been blown out of the water, huh?

So let me explain how GC/MS works.  I have experience with this technology as I used to work for an environmental consulting firm and had to understand how this machine works in order to be able to write the results in the reports I had to write for the government.

GC/MS is able to detect chemical substances on any surface.  The samples are collected via a cotton swab and run through the GC/MS machine to find the results.  Click here for a more comprehensive explanation of GC/MS.  At the inspection station at horse shows, the VMO collects samples from random horses--none are singled out.  The GC/MS machine itself is very sensitive and can detect a lot of chemicals, so it can sound an indication the field when actually it might just be fly spray or shampoo it's sensing.  However, it's when the test results come back as to what actual chemicals were being used is where the truth comes out.  A GC/MS can tell whether or not the chemicals are benign, such as shampoo, or damaging, such as sulfur or camphor.

What the USDA found are foreign substances that are being used in conjunction with the chain to cause pain and/or sensitivity.  They also found multiple -caines, which are products used to numb the leg during inspection but will wear off by the time the horse goes into the show ring.  These compounds are NOT found in the only three products that are allowed in the show ring per the HPA: glycerin, mineral oil, or petroletum (Vaseline).

Below are the jpgs of the USDA's Excel files documenting the results. Click the thumbnail to view them online.  Click the blue Next button to view the rest of the document.  Click directly on the photo to zoom in.

2010 Foreign Substance Results by Show (9 pages)  The Substance Found column indicates the substance(s) found on each individual horse; for example, at the Trainers' Show, 20 were tested with 18 positive results, so there are 18 lines to indicate the 18 horses that were found not in compliance.
 2010 Results by Show Pg 1
2010 Foreign Substance Results by Compound (2 pages)
2010 Results by Compound Pg 1
2011 Celebration Foreign Substances Results (2 pages)  The Substance Found column indicates the substance(s) found on each individual horse; there are 52 lines to indicate the 52 horses that were found not in compliance.
2011 Trainers' Show Foreign Substances Results (1 page)  Same setup as the above spreadsheet.

2011 Fun Show Foreign Substances Results (1 page)  Same setup as the above two spreadsheets.
2008 through 2010 Foreign Substance Violations with repeat violations (18 pages)

08-10 Substance Violations Pg 1

If you google these chemicals, you will find that some of them are not only dangerous to horses, but also to humans.  The key here, however, is this: the industry continues to cry that their horses' pasterns are clean, that the GC/MS is picking up chemicals that are in shampoos or fly sprays.  Really?  Camphor?  That's something you find in shampoo?

Folks, whether we like it or not, the HPA says that only three products are allowed on a horse's pasterns in the show ring: glycerin, mineral oil, and petroletum.  That is it, period.  The chemicals reported in these spreadsheets are not chemicals found in those three products.  So if you don't want to get a ticket, don't use products on your horse's pasterns in the ring other than the three allowed.  It's that simple.

I think these statistics are pretty clear that chemicals are still being used in the show ring.  Anyone who believes otherwise has their head in the sand.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

ARTICLES and HOW YOU CAN HELP - USDA Listening Sessions Reminder; Current Status of HSUS Seized Horses & Reward Paid; The News Spreads

USDA Listening Sessions Reminder

DON'T FORGET ABOUT THE USDA LISTENING SESSIONS!  Click here for the dates and locations!  Next one: the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY on March 15.  We need sound horse supporters in the seats!

If you can't make it to a listening session, I did find out that the USDA will accept emails with your thoughts.  Address your email to Dr. Rachel Cezar at the following contact information.

Rachel Cezar
APHIS – USDA Horse Protectoin
E-Mail: Rachel.Cezar@aphis.usda.gov

Be sure to include a very clear subject line, such as "HPA Listening Session 2012" or "My Input to the HPA Listening Session 2012."  Be polite, but don't be afraid to speak your mind.  We need the USDA to understand quite clearly that we want this practice to end, and we want them to step up and do it.  To wit, it was not the USDA HPA division that arrested Davis et al and McConnell et al--it was the USDA OIG and the U.S. Department of Justice.  The HPA division had nothing to do with it, and they should have been.


Current Status of the Horses Seized by the HSUS; HSUS Reward Paid

Since the arrests of McConnell et al, rumors have been circulating about what has happened to the horses.  Eight of the horses were seized by the HSUS as they exhibited signs of having been sored at McConnell's stables when the barns were searched.  However, rumors have spread saying these horses were released back to their owners and are going to be shown at the Trainers' show in the next few weeks.

So I contacted the HSUS directly about this.  Directly from the HSUS equine protection department, here's the information I received.

"The horses are still in our custody and will remain so until we are told by a judge to release them, or are granted permanent custody."

If this information STILL isn't good enough for my readers, please feel free to contact the HSUS directly via these folks' contact information (click here).

Click here for HSUS's web pages concerning soring and how to stop it.

Also, the HSUS will pay out their $10,000 reward in regard to the arrest and conviction of Barney Davis.  Click here for the article.  While of course the recipient will not be named, it is important to understand that yes, the reward is real, and yes, the system is working.  THANK YOU to whomever you are who told the HSUS about Davis.  FTTWH supports you 100 percent.


The News Spreads

Also since the arrests of McConnell et al, there are plenty more articles talking about the situations we're facing with ending soring since the arrests.  Here are some I've been alerted to that are excellent.

First, Senator Joe Tydings introduced the Horse Protection Act while serving in the U.S. Senate.  Below are his thoughts on what we need to do to end this horrific practice.  Click here for the online article.

Second, the American Veterinary Medical Association Journal website posted a comprehensive article about these cases and soring in the TN area.  Of particular note are the following quotes from the article and from Dr. Neal Valk, an equine surgeon in Greeneville, TN who also owns Stonehill Veterinary Center.

"An expert in natural hoof care, [Dr. Valk] estimates about a third of his caseload is composed of gaited horses and says that, where he lives, soring is rampant. In fact, he would say it is the rule rather than the exception in his area."

"Interestingly, Dr. Valk said the move away from chemical soring toward mechanical soring—in an attempt to avoid detection—has increased the prevalence and severity of hoof lesions and hind limb issues."

"Equine practitioners who work with owners in the gaited-horse industry have three options, as far as Dr. Valk is concerned: refuse to treat sored horses and risk the economic and social implications; accept what's happening, with full disclosure from the trainers, and risk the ethical and legal implications; or compromise by pretending not to acknowledge that horses are being sored."

Read on for both articles.


Fight to end soring is everyone's duty
Citizens must take stand against cruelty to horses
4:35 AM, Mar. 8, 2012

Forty-three years ago, while serving in the U.S. Senate, I introduced the Horse Protection Act to stop the cruel and intentional soring of the magnificent Tennessee Walking Horses.

Unfortunately, although the Horse Protection Act was enacted into law in 1970, far too many owners and trainers continue to illegally inflict excruciating pain on their horses to modify their natural gait and win prizes in the show ring.

“Soring” is the process of deliberately causing extreme pain to the legs and hooves of Tennessee Walking Horses and other gaited horses to enhance the unnatural, exaggerated high-stepping gaits, including the “Big Lick,” that are rewarded by judges in certain shows.

On Feb. 27, in an unprecedented action to enforce the law, a U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee sentenced four defendants, including trainer Barney Davis, on federal charges of violating the Horse Protection Act. Davis, who received a sentence of more than a year in prison, testified to how Walking Horse trainers used wooden blocks, metal chains, bolts, acid, kerosene and other caustic chemicals to tenderize and wound the legs and hooves of the horses. The horses then wear chains that hit their tenderized legs with each step, forcing a high-stepping gait.

Trainers and farriers also use power grinders to grind the bottom of the horse’s foot down to the bloody quick, and insert foreign objects, such as screws, to mechanically make it painful each time the horse takes a step. This causes the horse to snatch his foot off the ground in reaction to the pain. Tragically, this pain-driven unnatural movement is rewarded in these shows. Davis testified that “every Walking Horse that enters into a show ring is sored. ... They’ve got to be sored to walk. There ain’t no good way to put it, but that’s how it is.”

Soring is savage and wanton. These beautiful horses live 24/7 in agonizing pain during their entire show career and can suffer permanent damage.

Also last week, the U.S. district court indicted another prominent and winning trainer, Jackie McConnell, and three associates on 52 counts, including multiple felonies of conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act and substantive Horse Protection Act violations. These types of indictments and prosecutions are long overdue, and I applaud the impressive U.S. attorneys in the Eastern District who have courageously worked to end this abuse. I hope that these developments serve as a deterrent for wealthy owners and their hired trainers who seem to believe that it is their cultural right to ignore the law and continue this abusive practice.

Unfortunately, this vicious practice is still all too common in the Walking Horse industry, particularly in Kentucky and Tennessee. The U.S. Department of Agriculture attends only about 10 percent of these shows because of budget constraints, so the full impact of soring can only be estimated. In many shows, if a USDA veterinarian arrives to inspect the horses, trainers load their horses on a trailer and leave. I am encouraged by recent efforts of the USDA to step up inspections at shows, quantitatively and qualitatively, and to implement a minimum-penalty protocol for those found in violation of the Horse Protection Act.

But the federal government can only do so much. The most effective way to eliminate soring is for citizens to stand up to and speak out against this atrocious practice. This may take the form of educating others about the cruel effects of soring; refusing to sponsor, compete in or attend the types of horse shows that encourage sored horses to compete; boycotting companies that sponsor these types of shows; contacting local media about the practice; reaching out to members of Congress; or even reporting known abuses to national humane groups, U.S. attorneys or the USDA.

Joe Tydings is a former Democratic U.S. senator from Maryland and practices law in Washington.


High time for change
Further USDA crackdown on soring practices expected
By Malinda Larkin

On April 26, 2011, a federal grand jury in Chattanooga, Tenn., returned a 34-count indictment against Paul Blackburn, 36, and Christen Altman, 25, of Shelbyville, Tenn., as well as Barney Davis, 38, and Jeffery Bradford, 33, of Lewisburg, Tenn., charging them with violations of the federal Horse Protection Act and related financial crimes.

According to court documents, the four defendants were involved in a horse training operation from 2002 to October 2010 in which they "sored" Spotted Saddle Horses. This included inserting metal bolts in the horses' hooves and injecting chemicals into and applying irritants to sensitive areas of the horses' feet and pasterns to exaggerate their high-stepping gait during horse shows. They went so far as to falsify entry forms and other related paperwork to avoid detection by Department of Agriculture inspectors and designated qualified persons—inspectors certified by the USDA to check horses competing in shows for evidence of soring. The defendants did this so that additional customers would pay Davis and the others to board and train their horses at his barn.

Blackburn pleaded guilty Oct. 18, 2011, to a federal indictment charging him with conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act and substantive violations of the act. He was sentenced to 12 months' probation and a $1,000 fine Jan. 23 by US District Judge Harry S. Mattice for violating the HPA, among other charges. As part of Blackburn's probation, Judge Mattice ordered him to write an article describing soring methods used in the gaited-horse community, the effects soring has on the horses, and the scope of soring in the industry. Co-defendants Davis, Bradford, and Altman also pleaded guilty but were awaiting sentencing at press time. Davis, who also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit witness tampering, was facing up to a $250,000 fine and a 20-year prison sentence.

It's not the defendants' actions alone that make their cases noteworthy. In 2011, USDA inspectors and designated qualified persons identified 1,111 similar violations of the HPA. They made it to 474 of the 600 to 700 gaited-horse shows held that year. The USDA inspectors attended 62 of the events and found 587 of the violations.

What was uncommon was the fact that the violators were taken to court. The cases marked one of the first criminal indictments brought against individuals for violating the HPA in 20 years. And the USDA, with the help of the Department of Justice, hopes this is just the beginning.

"The crime committed by (Blackburn) is an example of a wide-spread problem in the equine industry that gives unfair and illegal advantage to some competitors over others, in addition to causing cruelty to the animals," said Bill Killian, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, in a Jan. 23 DOJ press release. "This issue has our attention and we will continue to pursue violators of the Horse Protection Act. ..."

From experience
Congress enacted the Horse Protection Act in 1970, making it a federal offense to show, sell, auction, exhibit, or transport a sored horse. But for those familiar with the gaited-horse industry, particularly in the Southern states, it often seems as though the law doesn't exist.

Just ask Dr. Neal Valk, an equine surgeon in Greeneville, Tenn., who owns Stonehill Veterinary Center. An expert in natural hoof care, he estimates about a third of his caseload is composed of gaited horses and says that, where he lives, soring is rampant. In fact, he would say it is the rule rather than the exception in his area.

Soring is performed by trainers, owner-trainers, and farriers, according to Dr. Valk. An owner-trained horse competing in a local "fun" show is just as likely to have been sored as a professionally trained horse competing in a large show, Dr. Valk said, although the method of soring might be different.

Methods range from application of irritants such as kerosene, hand cleaners, or oil of mustard to the pastern region of the forelimbs to the use of mechanical devices such as heel springs, bolts, or convex pads, which inflict pain by applying pressure to the soles of the forefeet in a continuous or intermittent fashion.

Techniques vary depending on the experience of the applicator and the likelihood of detection, which hinges on the scrutiny and judgment of the person inspecting the horse at a show or sale. In general, the more simple, less technologically advanced techniques are used with horses competing in small, low-profile shows.

"Unfortunately, the need to avoid detection has fueled the development of newer, more innovative, and more subtle methods of soring," Dr. Valk said. The same goes for hiding evidence of soring.

Some owners or trainers will use numbing agents that mask pain during inspection of the legs, or will, just before an inspection, apply a distraction device such as an alligator clip in the horse's rectum or on its testicles, or plastic ties around the horse's gums.

Dr. Valk said soring is difficult to stop, because it has become a fixture in the gaited-horse culture. Horses that move with the extreme, deep gait that is so desirable within the industry win, and soring is the simplest way to create this artificially. Many trainers and owners believe, therefore, that they must sore their horses to effectively compete in the show ring. Otherwise, they see themselves at a disadvantage.

Interestingly, Dr. Valk said the move away from chemical soring toward mechanical soring—in an attempt to avoid detection—has increased the prevalence and severity of hoof lesions and hind limb issues.

Equine practitioners who work with owners in the gaited-horse industry have three options, as far as Dr. Valk is concerned: refuse to treat sored horses and risk the economic and social implications; accept what's happening, with full disclosure from the trainers, and risk the ethical and legal implications; or compromise by pretending not to acknowledge that horses are being sored.

"I have always requested full disclosure from the trainer when treating gaited performance horses, and many trainers are cooperative in revealing what has been done to the horse in question. Without this knowledge, it can be very difficult to accurately assess the true condition of a lameness issue, for example. When uninformed, I must work around the issue to the best of my abilities," Dr. Valk said during a presentation at the 2010 Sound Horse Conference in Louisville, Ky.

Most of his clients in the industry don't view soring as abusive, because it usually doesn't result in visible or permanent damage to the horse—that is to say, they believe that even though the process causes pain (the intended purpose), it does not actually "hurt" the horse. Thus, he said, they do not think the horse suffers as a result of the procedure.

"They're my people, and they're not bad people. They love their kids, pay taxes, go to church, and they do love their horses, but they are trapped in a world that doesn't believe a sound horse can be competitive or draw a crowd. We need to help them dispel that belief by changing the system," Dr. Valk said.

What's being done
The Animal Care program, which is part of the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, enforces the Horse Protection Act and works to eliminate soring.

Dr. Rachel Cezar, Horse Protection Program coordinator with APHIS Animal Care, believes that soring is still common at sanctioned horse shows. And those are the shows the department knows about.

"Many individuals are just having shows and not telling us," she said.

The appropriation for HPA enforcement was set at $500,000 with the passage of a 1976 amendment to the act, and—until FY 2012—had not been increased again in nearly four decades. Chronic underfunding has hampered efforts to crack down on violators, Dr. Cezar said. The program was going to implement drug testing in 2010, for example, but didn't have the money.

The issue of soring has received more attention in recent years, after the USDA Office of the Inspector General completed an audit in fall 2010 analyzing APHIS' oversight of the Horse Protection Program and the Slaughter Horse Transport Program (see JAVMA, Jan. 15, 2011, page 143). According to the audit's executive summary, the OIG found that APHIS' program for inspecting horses for soring is not adequate to ensure that these animals are not being abused.

As a result, Animal Care's appropriation for HPA enforcement in the FY 2012 agricultural appropriations bill was upped to $696,000 at the request of the Obama administration and a bipartisan group of more than 150 members of Congress.

The audit also allows APHIS to change Horse Protection Act regulations—the first time since Dec. 30, 1992.

Some of the first regulatory changes likely to come will be related to the designated qualified persons program, because of concerns that relying on the system as it stands today hampers effective enforcement. Currently, DQPs can be USDA-accredited veterinarians with equine experience or farriers, horse trainers, or other indviduals who have been formally trained and licensed by one of a dozen USDA-certified horse industry organizations or associations.

Dr. Cezar said there's nothing in the HPA addressing the potential conflicts of interest these DQPs might have when performing inspections at shows. The OIG's audit recommended abolishing the DQP system altogether, so that only USDA employees would provide inspections.

"We're not able to attend all these shows with our funding right now, so we negotiated with the OIG auditors to (have the USDA) take over the training and licensing of the inspectors. We would then have full authority over training, licensing, and reprimanding of the DPQs. At this time, they're licensed under the horse industry organizations, and we are only able to recommend that a DQP be reprimanded," she said.

Also, the agency is looking at revamping the rules so the punishment structure is more uniform.

"We are working with the 12 different horse industry organizations to have more consistency with their enforcement of the HPA penalties," Dr. Cezar said. "It has been difficult to eliminate soring, because there has not been one consistent voice for the industry to self-regulate. That's why we're still trying to work with them as well as veterinary organizations such as the (American Association of Equine Practitioners and) AVMA."

Other areas the USDA may look into are all-out prohibitions on certain soring practices.

Going back to 1979, APHIS stated in a final rule published in the Federal Register that if the horse industry made no effort to establish a workable self-regulatory program for the elimination of sored horses, or if such a program were established but did not succeed in eliminating the sored horse problem within a reasonable time, the agency would seriously consider prohibiting all action devices and pads except protective boots.

That was 33 years ago, and, clearly, the state of the industry has not improved much. APHIS' expectation—in proposing new regulations to establish a consistent penalty protocol for the horse industry organizations to enforce, along with other forthcoming proposals—is to enable the Horse Protection Program to eliminate soring. If these regulatory changes and the resulting changes in the program do not eliminate soring, however, the USDA will "seriously consider taking substantially more restrictive action, including, but not limited to, prohibiting the use of all action devices and pads, to accomplish the goal set forth by Congress in the Act," according to comments by the agency in a 2010 proposed rule.

See you in court
As the USDA APHIS moves to improve its enforcement of the HPA, the agency has received help from the USDA Office of the Inspector General and the Department of Justice to stop soring through another tactic—taking HPA offenders to court.

Certified DQPs or USDA inspectors can issue only civil penalties for violations they find. When the DQPs find a violation, for example, they are supposed to write a ticket, serve it to the responsible individual, and impose a fine or suspension. The maximum penalty, according to the HPA, is a one-year disqualification and a $3,000 fine.

USDA inspectors can, instead, fill out a form that requests a federal investigation, which is forwarded to the USDA's investigators. The inspectors can collect affidavits from veterinarians or the alleged violators, and these are forwarded to the USDA attorneys, who can file a complaint if they so choose. The USDA OIG has the authority to pursue criminal violations of the HPA, including allegations related to soring and false entries or statements.

The government scored a legal victory with the guilty pleas and convictions of Blackburn, Davis, Bradford, and Altman on abuses related to soring. They were the result of a seven-month investigation conducted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee and the USDA Office of the Inspector General, starting in August 2010.

"In the past, we haven't had much support to look at doing these types of penalties, but, fortunately, we have received more support from the OIG wanting to enforce the HPA," Dr. Cezar said. "They're interested in helping us, because they realized how soring is an inhumane and abusive practice that is still occurring and needs to be eliminated."

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Tennessee and the USDA OIG brought another criminal case this past year, which they won as well.

Chris Zahnd, 45, owner and operator of Swingin' Gate Stables in Trinity, Ala., was sentenced Nov. 21, 2011, by U.S. Magistrate Judge E. Clifton Knowles to two years of probation.

Zahnd pleaded guilty to charges that at a July 4, 2009, show in Tennessee, a horse he had trained and stabled was wearing a nerve cord in its mouth and was bilaterally "sore," as determined by an inspector. Nerve cords are plastic zip ties applied around a horse's gums to distract the horse during an inspection for soring. Zahnd was already a five-time HPA violator, according to the HPA database.

The government agencies hope the recent convictions and the threat of future prosecutions against those who sore horses will motivate the industry to make changes.

U.S. Attorney Bill Killian, in a Nov. 8 Department of Justice press release, said, "It is extremely important to maintain the integrity of the (gaited-horse) industry and ensure that those who participate in the industry are following the law. There have been too many people who have acted with impunity in this arena for too long by violating the Horse Protection Act and other federal laws.

"We hope this prosecution and others like it will deter trainers and owners who are thinking about cheating and committing fraud in order to reap monetary profits and achieve notoriety. Hopefully, the possibility of being federally prosecuted, sustaining criminal convictions—felonies and misdemeanors, and the prospect of jail time will serve to make people think twice before violating the law."


Monday, March 5, 2012

NEWS and ARTICLES - Jackie McConnell, et. al. Arrested for 52 Counts of Soring Per Undercover Work by HSUS UPDATED*

During The HSUS investigation, a young filly named Master Streaker was so painfully sore that McConnell himself referred to her as "paralyzed."

Photo from the HSUS undercover work at McConnell's stables of horse abuse to "train" TWHs.

*Post updated to include information from the Shelbyville Times-Gazette, included below.

I'm sure everyone has heard by now about Jackie McConnell, et al being arrested on 52 counts of animal cruelty, 18 of those being felony counts.  The U.S. Department of Justice and the Office of Inspector General worked with the Humane Socity of the United States to perform undercover work at McConnell's stables for over a year to gather evidence, both photographic and video.  To recap, here is part of the news article from the  DOJ, who are the ones who arrested these men.  Click here for the online article.


Department of Justice
United States Attorney William C. Killian Eastern District of Tennessee

Jackie L. McConnell, Jeff Dockery, John Mays, And Joseph Abernathy Indicted For Violations Of The Horse Protection Act

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.-- A federal grand jury in Chattanooga, Tenn., returned a 52 count indictment on February 29, 2012, against Jackie L. McConnell, 60, of Collierville, Tenn., Jeff Dockery, 54, of Collierville, Tenn., John Mays, 50, of Collierville, Tenn., and Joseph R. Abernathy, 30, of Olive Branch, Miss., for conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act and Substantive Horse Protection Act violations. No trial date has been set.

The indictment on file with the U. S. District Court in Chattanooga, alleges that all four individuals conspired to violate the Horse Protection Act by applying prohibited substances, such as mustard oil, to the pastern area of Tennessee Walking Horses to sore them in order to produce an exaggerated gait in the show ring. The conspiracy is alleged to have begun in 2006 in the Eastern District of Tennessee and elsewhere, and continued through September 2011. The conspiracy count of the indictment sets forth in some detail the methods allegedly employed to sore horses, train them not to react to pain in their feet by causing pain elsewhere, and otherwise mask the evidence of the soring efforts.

The documents filed with the court allege that the substantive violations occurred at the annual National Walking Horse Trainers Show held in March 2011 in Shelbyville Tenn; at the Spring Fun Show held in May 2011 in Shelbyville, Tenn.; and at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in August and September 2011.

If convicted, all defendants face a maximum term of three years in prison for each felony count and up to one year in prison for each misdemeanor.

This indictment is the result of an investigation by Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General and Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven S. Neff and Assistant United States Attorney M. Kent Anderson will represent the United States.


The government worked with the HSUS to perform undercover work for over a year to catch these guys.  Here's the information from the indictment as to what was found.  Posted by Rate My Horse PRO - click here for the indictment.

Manner and Means of Conspiracy [paraphrased]

McConnell, Dockery, and Mays...would utilize various methods to “sore” horses on a regular basis before competition...with such soring methods to include placing chemical irritants on horses’ pasterns and other soring measures.

McConnell, Dockery, Mays, and Abernathy would attempt to mask the soring efforts by “stewarding” the horses in order to reduce the level of reactions to inspections.  Stewarding involves the practice of applying blunt force to a hore’s head or nose when it displays an obvious reaction to pain.  In addition, the defendants would use black ink markers to color in scarred areas to avoid detection.

McConnell would ensure the other individuals working for him...would get a “trainer’s license” so that McConnell could list him in shows as the trainer of the horses he had actually trained in order to protect himself from being cited or “ticketed” for a horse’s soreness when discovered during inspection.

McConnell, Abernathy and Dockery agreed to falsify the entry forms and other paperwork associated with various shows by intentionally and falsely claiming that Dockery was the trainer for particular horses that McConnell actually trained.

It’s very important to note that McConnell was on a 5 year suspension from the USDA at the time he instructed these guys and made sure they got training licenses so they could show the horses for him that were under his "care" (I use that term loosely).

I highly recommend reading the Overt Acts section of the indictment, pages 4 through 11 of the RMHP indictment post.  It describes the methods in detail of what the abusers did.  (Some of it may be disturbing--please read with caution.)  The chemical soring was rampant, and they were constantly using substances in the show ring that are not approved substances by the HPA, including using markers to color over scars.  The most disturbing part is how several of the horses showed in the shows when they were clearly sored and won ribbons.  This means the DQP didn’t do his job either.  Plus, the indictment describes how they would take horses to a nearby farm that wasn't on the show grounds and sore them before bringing them over to the show.

I contacted the HSUS and found out that eight of the horses were seized from McConnell's training facility because at the time the men were arrested and the barn was searched, they were found to have evidence of being sored.  There were still several horses left at the barn, however, and from what I understand the owners went to get them and took them to other facilities.  The eight horses are being held by the HSUS and may be used as court evidence.  It is possible that the owners could also be charged since they had their horses under the "care" of McConnell, et al and may not get their horses back.

If found guilty, these men face fines and up to three years in prison PER COUNT on the federal indictments and one year in prison per abuse indictment.  So if you take a look at the indictments and count up how many times each man is named in each count, McConnell adds up to 103 counts alone, 52 federal and 51 HPA.  52 x 3 = 156 years.  156 + 51 years = 207 years.  He could spend the rest of his life behind bars.  I imagine the sentencing won't be that extreme, but you get the idea of the seriousness of the situation.

The HSUS did a bang up job of gathering evidence for the government.  Here is part of their article about what they found.  Click here for the online article.

As described in the indictment, the trainers used painful chemicals on the horses’ front legs, using pain to force them to have an artificially high-stepping gait for show competitions. This cruel practice, known as “soring,” has been illegal for more than 40 years under the federal Horse Protection Act.

Soring is also specifically prohibited by Tennessee’s animal cruelty law. In addition to soring, HSUS documented horses being whipped, kicked, shocked in the face and violently cracked across the heads and legs with heavy wooden sticks. In some cases, their tails were mutilated with scissors and blades in order to make them appear flashier in the show ring – leaving behind untreated bleeding wounds. During The HSUS investigation, a young filly named Master Streaker was so painfully sore that McConnell himself referred to her as “paralyzed.”

“The cruel training methods documented throughout our investigation are sickening to watch for any horse lover, and show the immense suffering horses often endure simply for the sake of a high-stepping gait,” said Keith Dane, director of equine protection for The HSUS and Maryland director of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association. “Horses entertain us and provide us companionship, and should not be subject to this horrible cruelty and abuse.” 

*The Shelbyville Times-Gazette released more information on March 6, 2012 from the HSUS and information that goes over some of the overt acts.  Click here for the article.  Most notible is the following.

[Keith Dane, director of Equine Protection for HSUS and TWHBEA board member,] also characterized McConnell as "one of many leading trainers who have been successful over the years and have had a series of Horse Protection Act violations," also pointing out that McConnell had been on a five-year suspension by the USDA when their investigation was underway at his barn.

Dane said they knew there were horses being shown that had been trained and ridden by McConnell before his federal disqualification in 2006, and "we suspected he was continuing to train and get horses into the ring" while on suspension.

He added that McConnell's facility was "one of several trainers ... training establishments, that we identified that we would try to get an inside look as to what was going on." When asked if HSUS was looking at any locations in Bedford County, Dane only said he "couldn't say at this time."

"We have a list of training barns in Tennessee and in other states that have histories of Horse Protection Act violations and may be candidates for further research and investigation in the future," Dane said.

It's clear to anyone that what McConnell and his lackeys did is cruel and inhumane.  However, what's even more upsetting is that McConnell served as president of the WHTA for many years, has WGCs under his belt, has served in other capacities with associations, and was a well known and "respected" trainer in the business.  You cannot tell me that people did not know he was doing this.  You cannot tell me that the owners of his horses were concerned about the welfare of their animals, going to do spot inspections at his stables and being present at shows.  You cannot tell me that others aren't practicing the same methods he is.  He is not alone in this, and the industry should take note: YOU'RE NEXT.  If they have been doing undercover work on him, then you can bet they're doing it on other trainers as well.

I also note that SHOW and other HIOs are not jumping up and banning him from their associations like they did Davis.  This is very suspicious to me, and I think it says a lot when it comes to what these people will and will not tolerate within their industry.

Thank you to the HSUS, OIG, and DOJ for your hard work and for exposing these men and their cruel practices.  May we see justice served in this case, and may McConnell and his lackeys receive punishment to the fullest extent of the law.

More articles and information:
HSUS President Wayne Parcell's blog: Shocking New HSUS Investigation Leads to Arrests, Horse Rescue, March 1, 2012.

Rate My Horse PRO: Federal Grand Jury Indicts Horse Trainers of Soring, Conspiracy, March 2012.  Includes link to indictment.

Chattanooga Times Free Press: Four more men indicted by federal grand jury in horse abuse case, March 2, 2012.

Shelbyville Times-Gazette: Much soring alleged, March 6, 2012.

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