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.