Trainer Jackie McConnell has admitted one federal felony charge over horse soring, but reports suggest he is unlikely to be imprisoned.
McConnell admitted one of the charges in a 52-count indictment in the federal court building in Chattanooga on Tuesday, under a deal reached with prosecutors. The plea agreement has yet to be approved by a judge.
McConnell and other individuals were charged after an undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States, in which video footage was obtained showing abuse of horses in a bid to develop the high-stepping gait so desirable in the walking-horse industry.
The state’s largest newspaper, The Tennessean, weighed in on the issue in an editorial, saying McConnell had walked from the federal court after entering his plea, and will continue to walk free if the case follows its current course, with a September sentencing hearing.
“The very name of this beautiful, gentle breed has become a twisted joke, thanks to the Jackie McConnells who populate the show-horse industry,” the newspaper said.
“These horses limp from having searing chemicals applied to their flesh and suffer from years of beatings by trainers as a way to condition them to hide their pain from inspectors.”
It continued: “Despite the public outrage over what these individuals have done, prosecutors plan to let them off with no time served.
“This coddling of sadists is a disgrace to the state of Tennessee, and it represents a failure of accountability on the part of the federal court system; federal and state policy makers; and the show-horse industry.”
The newspaper called on walking-horse industry leaders to weigh in over McConnell’s case, noting that his plea deal still must be approved by a US district judge.
“The only way soring will end is if these abusers are made to pay with prison time and automatic lifetime bans from ever handling horses again.”
Meanwhile, on the day McConnell enter his plea, the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration slapped him with a life ban. It denounced and condemned McConnell’s training methods.
The Celebration’s board of directors voted to suspend McConnell for life and suspended him for life from entering the Celebration grounds for any and all events, regardless of the event’s affiliation or ownership.
The board voted to permanently remove McConnell’s name from the list of Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration Hall of Fame inductees.
It said any picture, plaque, image or other mention of his name from Hall of Fame data will be permanently removed and his name will be forever erased from Hall of Fame rolls.
It voted to permanently remove any and all pictures and signage on the Celebration grounds carrying either the name of Jackie McConnell or the likeness.
A ban was imposed on entry to the Celebration grounds of any horse under the custodianship or presumed to be under the custodianship of McConnell.
“This action is the strongest we can take and it clearly reflects our disgust with the actions of Mr McConnell,” Celebration chief executive Doyle Meadows said.
“His actions are not reflective of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, and we in no way want him associated with our show.”