McConnell to Pay Fines, Serve Probation in Horse Soring Case

Former Hall of Fame Tennessee Walking Horse trainer Jackie McConnell will pay $75,000 in fines and serve three years of probation for conspiring to violate the Horse Protection Act (HPA). The Act forbids soring, the deliberate injury to horses' feet and legs to achieve an exaggerated, high-stepping gait.

In February, a federal grand jury in Tennessee handed down a 52-count indictment accusing McConnell and three other individuals of conspiring to violate the HPA. In May, McConnell pleaded guilty to one conspiracy count under a plea agreement. Under terms of the plea deal McConnell faced probation and fines. On Sept. 6, U.S. Atty. Steven Neff filed a sentencing memorandum asking U. S. District Court Judge Harry S. Mattice to impose the maximum probation term of five years and a "significant fine" on McConnell. The memorandum also asked that McConnell be barred from having any contact with horses including training, exhibiting, transporting or sale during the entire probation period.

Sharry Dedman-Beard, public information officer for the U.S State's Attorney's Office, Eastern Tennessee District said that on Sept. 18 Mattice accepted the plea agreement and sentenced McConnell to pay a $75,000 fine, to serve three years probation, and to perform 300 hours of public service to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. McConnell was also ordered to write and publish an article on horse soring practices including how the practice affects horses and how widely it is practiced in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, Dedman-Beard said.

McConnell's attorney Tom Greenholtz praised Mattice's decisions in the case.

"We were pleased with the attention and consideration that Judge Mattice gave to the case," Greenholtz said. "In accepting the plea agreement, Judge Mattice was thoughtful and appreciative of the positions raised by the parties, and he arrived at a sentence he believed was appropriate under the law."

Jane Lynch Crain, spokesperson for the Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization said the McConnell sentence sends a message to trainers who continue to violate the HPA.

"Those who abuse horses should be held accountable and we hope that (McConnell's) sentencing sends a message to those who hurt horses that this type of activity will not be tolerated," said Lynch Crain.

Though McConnell's sentencing is set, some equine welfare advocates argued that existing penalty provisions currently contained in HPA were too lenient. Earlier this month, federal lawmakers introduced HR 6388, legislation that would stiffen penalties for HPA violators and ban action devices such as metal chains and performance packages also known as "stacks" That legislation remains pending.

In the meantime, federal prosecutors say they will continue to investigate and prosecute HPA violation cases.

"The impact in these cases has been far beyond any level that we might have imagined," said U.S. Attorney William C. Killian

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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