A new HSUS undercover investigation released today shines a light on the dark side of the Tennessee walking horse industry and has led to the rescue of horses from one of the industry’s most notorious and abusive trainers.
A federal grand jury has handed down rare felony criminal indictments charging Jackie McConnell, a well-known Tennessee walking horse trainer, for multiple violations of the federal Horse Protection Act. Horse soring is the abusive practice of applying highly painful chemicals (such as mustard oil or kerosene) and heavy metal chains on horses’ lower front legs, forcing them to lift their feet in an exaggerated way in an effort to seek relief from the pain.
The goal of this cruelty? To produce the artificially high-stepping show-ring gait that wins fancy ribbons and prizes at Tennessee walking horse show competitions. McConnell and several of his associates have been indicted on 52 counts of violating the federal Horse Protection Act (including 18 felony counts), and also charged with numerous violations of the Tennessee Cruelty to Animals Statute.
In a related joint operation led by The HSUS, the U.S. Attorney for Eastern Tennessee, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General, and the 25th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, horses were rescued this morning from Jackie McConnell’s training operation and are now in the care of the HSUS Animal Rescue Team. For these lucky few, the nightmare of abuse is finally over.
The disturbing abuse uncovered by our investigator is sickening to watch. In addition to soring, our footage shows horses being brutally whipped, kicked, shocked in the face, and violently cracked across the skulls and legs with heavy wooden sticks. In some cases, their tails were mutilated with scissors and blades to make them appear flashier in the show ring―leaving behind untreated, bleeding wounds.
The HSUS has been pulling back the curtain on horse soring for decades, but this is the first successful undercover investigation of horse soring abuses by an animal protection group that has produced arrests and this kind of impact on the industry. We are grateful to the U.S. Attorney William C. Killian of the Eastern District of Tennessee, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Steven Neff and Kent Anderson, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, USDA’s Office of the Inspector General, and District Attorney General D. Michael Dunavant and Assistant District Attorney General Mark E. Davidson for the Tennessee 25th Judicial District for taking decisive action in this case.
Although this is the second major federal prosecution of horse soring in the last year, many trainers in the walking horse industry have repeatedly been found in violation of the Horse Protection Act, yet continue to train and sore horses for customers while on suspension from showing. Jackie McConnell was on a five-year federal disqualification from showing at the time of this investigation, yet continued to abuse horses and get them into the show ring. The HSUS is calling on Congress to increase funding for USDA’s enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, to crack down on this rampant abuse in the industry.