Tennessee Grand Jury Indicts McConnell for Horse Soring

A Fayette County, Tenn., grand jury has indicted former trainer Jackie McConnell on more than 20 counts of animal cruelty in connection with the alleged soring of Tennessee Walking Horses. Soring is the deliberate injury to a horse’s feet and legs to achieve an exaggerated, high-stepping gait. On the federal level the Horse Protection Act (HPA) forbids the practice, and soring is also unlawful under Tennessee state animal cruelty statutes.

Last year, a federal grand jury in Tennessee handed down a 52-count indictment accusing McConnell, along with two other individuals—Jeff Dockery and John Mays—of conspiring to violate the HPA. Dockery and Mays later pleaded guilty to lesser charges, while McConnell later pleaded guilty to one conspiracy count under a plea agreement. U.S District Court Judge Harry S. Mattice later accepted terms of the plea agreement and sentenced McConnell to pay a $75,000 fine, to serve three years’ probation, and to perform 300 hours of community service. Mattice also ordered McConnell to write and publish an article about how soring effects horses and how widely it is practiced in the Tennessee Walking Horse Industry.

On March 25, a grand jury handed down another indictment charging McConnell with 22 counts of animal cruelty for allegedly soring horses while training the animals for exhibition in the show ring. The indictment also accuses McConnell of hitting some horses with a club and using a cattle prod to “hot shot” horses as part of their training. The indictment also charges Dockery with three counts of animal cruelty and charges Mays with 13 animal cruelty counts. Dockery and Mays were unavailable for comment.

McConnell’s attorney David Douglas was unavailable for comment on the case.

Mike Inman, executive director of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration and spokesman for Sound Horses, Honest Judging, Objective Inspections, Winning Fairly (SHOW), the horse industry organization that manages the flagship Tennessee Walking Horse industry event, declined immediate comment on grounds that he had not yet seen the indictment.

“I don’t feel it would be appropriate for SHOW to make a comment at this time,” Inman said.

Tracy Boyd, president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association (TWBEA) issued a written statement about the indictment.

“(TWHBEA) stands firm in its commitment to sound horses in every discipline,” Boyd said in the statement. “We respect the rights of our members to exhibit their horses in any division, but we expect them to treat their horses with dignity and respect and to abide by the law. Like the vast majority of the Tennessee Walking Horse community, TWHBEA was horrified by many of the images recorded at Mr. McConnell's barn and is committed to doing everything in our limited power to prevent and punish this type of behavior.

“The entire Tennessee Walking Horse community must be held to the highest standard regarding the care and treatment of our horses,” Boyd's statement continued. “Violators must be prosecuted and given proper due process. Although we recognize that, just as in every industry, there will be those that seek an unfair advantage, we must, as an industry, strive for perfection in regards to the Horse Protection Act and the well being of our horses.”

The case remains pending in Tennessee.

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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