TWH Trainer, Three Others Indicted on HPA Violations

Tennessee Walking Horse trainer Jackie L. McConnell, of Collierville, Tenn., and three others are accused of violating the Horse Protection Act (HPA) by soring horses under a 52-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Feb. 29. The indictment comes just two days after gaited horse trainer Barney Davis and two others were sentenced in their high-profile 2011 HPA violation case.

Sharry Dedman-Beard, public information officer for the U.S State's Attorney's Office, Eastern Tennessee District, said the indictment alleges that from 2006 through September 2011 McConnell along with Jeff Dockery and John Mays, both of Collierville, Tenn., and Joseph R. Abernathy, of Olive Branch, Miss., conspired to violate the HPA by applying prohibited substances such as mustard oil, to the pastern area of Tennessee Walking Horses to achieve an exaggerated high-stepping, or so-called "big lick" gait. The indictment also describes the methods allegedly used to sore the horses, train the animals not to react to pain in their feet by causing pain elsewhere, and to otherwise mask evidence of soring.

McConnell, Dockery, Mays, and Abernathy were not available for comment on the indictment.

"McConnell, Dockery, and Mays would attempt to mask 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 horse's head or nose when it displays an obvious reaction to pain," the indictment alleges.

The three would allegedly use black ink markers to cover soring-related scars and allegedly apply the local anesthetic Lidocaine to horses' front pasterns to prevent them from reacting to foot palpations during inspections at exhibitions, the indictment said.

Dedman-Beard said the substantive violations cited in the indictment took place 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; and at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration (TWHNC) in August and September 2011.

Doyle Meadows, PhD, chief executive officer for the TWHNC, said McConnell did not enter any horse at the Spring Fun Show or at the TWHNC.

The indictment alleges that Dockery was used as a proxy trainer at the Trainers Show and at the Fun Show, and that Dockery and others were allegedly used as proxy trainers at the 2011 National Celebration.

Meadows declined direct comment on the indictment, but said the TWHNC administration and Sound horses, Honest judging, Objective inspections, Winning fairly (SHOW, the Horse Industry Organization that provides rules, judges, and designated qualified persons to conduct HPA compliance inspections at the TWHNC and other sanctioned Walking Horse shows) promote the exhibition of sound horses.

"We are totally opposed to any abuse or soring of horses," Meadows said. "We don't want them here (at the Celebration); we don't want them on the grounds."

SHOW President Steve Mullins, DVM, was unavailable for comment on the indictment.

Marty Irby, president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association said via email that he did not have an immediate comment on the indictments.

Teresa Bippen, vice president of Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH), said the indictment of McConnell and his associates represents a victory for gaited horses victimized by soring practices.

"This has been a long time in coming," Bippen said. "FOSH hopes that the soring of horses as a standard training protocol will continue to be prosecuted under the Horse Protection Act and quickly become history as trainers and owners realize the criminal ramifications of abusing and torturing gaited horses."

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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