Horse abuse video released
Posted: Friday, May 18, 2012 8:00 pm
NASHVILLE (AP) — The Humane Society of the United States has released video of the abuse of Tennessee walking horses that led to a federal indictment charging four people with violation of the federal Horse Protection Act.
The video made public Thursday in Nashville was taken in 2011 at the farm of a prominent trainer, Jackie McConnell of Collierville, and shows individuals soring horses at his stables. Soring is a banned practice of using chemicals and chains to train horses to perform high-stepping gaits for shows and competitions.
McConnell has agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act, according to court records. Tom Greenholtz, McConnell’s attorney, said because his client has an upcoming plea hearing, he did not want to comment on the video.
Keith Dane, the director of equine protection for HSUS, said for seven weeks the agency had an undercover investigator in a training barn in McConnell’s Whitter Stables who took the video. The video has been posted on the HSUS website.
“The Horse Protection Act was passed in 1970 to make this illegal, but the practice has continued unabated for the last 42 years,” he said. “There have been efforts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies to enforce this act, but there is a lack of deterrent and the rewards have been greater for the risks for doing this practice.”
Dane said while walking horse shows offer cash prizes, more significant money comes from breeding and horse sales for walking horses that are show champions.
The Humane Society said they assisted the U.S. Attorney’s office in their investigation, provided evidence to law enforcement and helped to rescue horses from McConnell’s stables.
In the video, chemicals are applied to the horse’s legs, which are then wrapped in plastic. The video shows horses stumbling and unable to get up because of the soring. Individuals can be seen hitting the horses in the head with sticks, and horses crying in pain as they are whipped and shocked.
The Walking Horse Trainers’ Association issued a statement Thursday night saying it was “shocked and saddened” by the video and doesn’t condone the behavior. After the video’s release, the organization’s board of directors called a meeting and voted unanimously to take steps to suspend McConnell’s trainers’ license indefinitely, the statement said.
PepsiCo has withdrawn its corporate sponsorship from the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, the industry’s biggest competition held annually in Shelbyville, but a company spokesman wouldn’t say whether it was related to the video, which was first aired on ABC’s Nightline on Wednesday night.
Celebration CEO Doyle Meadows said in a statement that Pepsi has been a sponsor since 2010 and he hopes they will come back as a sponsor in the future.
“The Celebration has worked extremely hard over recent years to gain the trust of our corporate partners and we would do nothing to destroy that relationship. As The Celebration moves forward to promote a sound horse we hope that everyone will assist in our efforts to promote this magnificent breed,” Meadows said.
Dane argued that the USDA needs more funding to expand enforcement and investigations of suspected abuse. The USDA Office of Inspector General said in a 2010 audit that the industry is mostly self-regulated by inspectors hired by walking horse groups and USDA inspectors only attended 6 percent of the over 400 horse shows in one year.
“As a result of this investigation, we are calling on Congress to fix the flaws in the Horse Protection Act, to close the loopholes that have been allowing this to continue … and once and for all to get this hideous abuse of animals and cruelty to animals abolished,” he said.
The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association said in a statement that it condemns any violation of the Horse Protection Act.
“Tennessee Walking Horses do not have to be sored to walk,” association president Marty Irby said in the statement. “The walking horse holds an inherent natural gait that has been in existence for nearly 100 years. TWHBEA adopted a zero tolerance policy in regards to soring a number of years ago.”
Stephen Mullins, a veterinarian and president of SHOW, an organization that puts on walking horse shows, called the video shocking, but said one trainer’s actions should not represent all the other individuals in the industry.
Mullins said his organization has issued one-year suspensions to over 150 people from their shows because of violations, but there are hundreds of unaffiliated walking horse shows that don’t have the same standards and inspections.
“Our objective at SHOW is to eliminate soring and the showing of a sored horse,” he said in a statement.
On the net: The Humane Society of the United States: http://www.humanesociety.org/
Published in The Messenger 5.18.12