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Walking Horse ‘Trainer’ Sentenced

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Walking Horse ‘Trainer’ Sentenced

By Michael Mountain, Earth in Transition
September 2012

"How we treat animals is a direct reflection of our character, both as individuals and a nation," said Rep. Cohen. "There is no ribbon, no prize nor championship worth the price of one's humanity."

In May, undercover video from the Humane Society of the U.S.showed horses being tortured and beaten to get them to do the high-stepping dance that's the hallmark of a Tennessee Walking Horse.

Yesterday Jackie McConnell, considered one of the leading "trainers" of this sorry industry, was fined $75,000 and put on probation for three years.

The HSUS video showed McConnell and his stable hands beating horses and using electric cattle prods to make them lift their feet high in the special "walk" for which judges at walking shows like to see.

Worse, people like McConnell apply caustic chemicals to the ankles of the horses and them wrap them with plastic wrap so the chemicals eat into the skin.

"That creates intense pain and then the ankles are wrapped with large metal chains so the horses flinch, or raise their feet even higher," said Keith Dane, who had led the investigation for the HSUS.

A random inspection by agents of the Department of Agriculture at last year's annual championship found that all 52 of 52 horses tested positive for some sort of foreign substance around front hooves, either to cause pain or to hide it.

As part of his sentence, McConnell is also required to write a letter about the soring of horses, the pain it causes and the long-term effects on horses. He has also been banned for life from the Tennessee Walking Horse organization's main annual show competition and has been removed from its hall of fame. The fine, however is pocket change. This abuser has made millions from his activities. Dane told The Chattanoogan that "he has shown no remorse. For decades his income was based on the torture of horses."

According to the newspaper:

Although the Horse Protection Act was signed into law more than 40 years ago, the systematic abuse of Tennessee walking horses continues unabated. Trainers have devised a gruesome array of techniques to make it painful for these majestic horses to step down, so they will lift their front legs extremely high in the prize-winning, unnatural gait known as “the Big Lick.”

The state and federal charges against McConnell and his associates follow another recent federal criminal prosecution involving the practice of horse soring. In November 2011, former trainer Barney Davis pleaded guilty to violations of the Horse Protection Act. He was sentenced by a federal judge to serve more than a year in prison.

A 2010 USDA Office of Inspector General audit exposed how players in the walking horse industry work to evade detection, rather than comply with federal law and train horses humanely. The audit stated that the USDA needs more funding for full enforcement of the Act, and recommended stiffer penalties for violators and the abolishment of the industry’s failed system of self-enforcement.

Four members of Congress – Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Jim Moran, D-Va., – have introduced H.R. 6388, the Horse Protection Act Amendments of 2012, to bring an end to the industry's self-policing and to ban the use of devices associated with soring and mandate stronger penalties.

"How we treat animals is a direct reflection of our character, both as individuals and a nation," said Rep. Cohen. "There is no ribbon, no prize nor championship worth the price of one's humanity."