Tennessee Walking Horse abuser's legal saga wraps with guilty plea

7:43 PM, Jul 9, 2013   |    comments
Jackie McConnell (Photo via The Tennessean)
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By Heidi Hall / The Tennessean

Convicted animal abuser Jackie McConnell will be in his 80s before he owns another Tennessee Walking Horse, the result of a plea agreement that ends a year of legal trouble launched by stomach-turning undercover video.

His 20-year ban on horse ownership and training - plus a $25,000 fine, a year of house arrest and four years probation - was the best prosecutors could have asked for, District Attorney General Mike Dunavant said.

"Our primary focus was to seize and protect the abused animals and prohibit Jackie McConnell from being in a position to abuse animals again," Dunavant said. "That's effectively a lifetime ban. It puts him out of the walking horse training business."

A Humane Society of the United States worker secretly taped McConnell, 61, beating and chemically soring horses at his Collierville, Tenn., stables. The practice of soring means burning their lower legs to accentuate the breed's naturally higher, longer gait. McConnell was sentenced in Fayette County on Tuesday after pleading guilty to 12 of 22 misdemeanor charges.

Last year, a federal judge in Chattanooga sentenced him to a $75,000 fine and three years probation for conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act.

The video, released in May 2012, prompted a number of changes affecting the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. The state made horse soring a felony. Tennessee and Kentucky congressmen began working together to strengthen the Horse Protection Act, an effort that's continuing today and threatens to end the tall shoes and ankle chains that mark the breed's performance class.

The industry effectively excommunicated McConnell, removing him from the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration's Hall of Fame and banning him from its Shelbyville, Tenn., grounds. The Celebration, held across the two weeks leading up to Labor Day each year, instituted its own soring tests for participants.

"It has been a remarkable case," said Leighann McCollum, the society's Tennessee state director. "With the Celebration coming up in September, this sent a message to competitors and trainers still in the industry. Even though he didn't get jail time, this is not a light sentence.

"He won't torture horses for blue ribbons anymore."

The ones McConnell tortured are now healthy and in state custody, McCollum said, at the Humane Society's expense. With McConnell's plea comes the start of civil proceedings to determine permanent custody for eight horses seized from his stable. The horses named in the indictment include Mucho Bueno, Taj Mahal and Cash Sweep.

Two of McConnell's codefendents, Jeff Dockery and John K. Mays, pleaded guilty in the same incident and received three and four years probation, respectively.

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