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Friday, May 18, 2012

ABC News / HSUS Tennessee Walking Horse Expose Brings Soring Case to National Attention

ABC News broadcast a hidden-camera video this week, exposing the at-home training techniques of well-known Tennessee Walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell of Collierville, Tennessee.

According to the ABC web site, the video was part of a recent Grand Jury indictment of McConnell and was shot by someone working on the trainer's barn crew while collaborating with the Humane Society of the United States.

As a result of this video, Pepsi has withdrawn its sponsorship of the breed's largest show, the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in Shelbyville, Tennessee each September.

The Walking Horse Trainers Association (WHTA) has revoked McConnell's training license. WHTA did not have prior knowledge that the video existed or that ABC News planned to air it. Following the broadcast, the WHTA director quickly called a meeting to voice their reaction.

The WHTA was quick to take HSUS and ABC News to task for comments made on the broadcast about the Walking horse's natural gait.

WHTA President Jamie Hankins: “The gait of the Tennessee Walking Horse is a natural one and our horse does not have to be sored to achieve the high-stepping gait we are so well-known for.”

As further proof of the WHTA’s commitment to the welfare of the horse, Hankins stated that “[i]n February of this year, the USDA released data related to foreign substance testing and our organization acted immediately to introduce a new industry swabbing and drug testing initiative which will be implemented within the next month. This initiative goes above and beyond what is required by the Horse Protection Act, however, our board felt strongly that this program was necessary to protect the interests of our horses and our profession in light of the latest information received from the USDA.”

McConnell, who was previously banned from training horses for five years by the USDA, has been charged with 52 counts by a Grand Jury but he entered into a plea agreement last week with prosecutors. In exchange for pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act, the other counts will be dropped.

The charges dropped relate to horse soring, transporting and entering sored horses in show competitions and falsifying documents. The penalty for the one count could be a $5000 fine, up to three years in prison, or both.

Horseshoer Joseph Abernathy was charged along with McConnell. The court agreed to allow him to continue to operate his farrier business, provided he report weekly on whose horses he has shod. Abernathy did not have any previous USDA violations on his record.

One of the training methods shown on the video is called "stewarding". It teaches the horse to stand still and not flinch when its sore feet and pasterns are handled by inspectors (stewards).

To learn more: Watch a video of a stake championship class for Walking horses at the Mississippi Charity Horse Show in Jackson last year. These horses all passed the anti-soring inspection before the competition.

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