As Jackie McConnell was being told he now faces up to five years in prison and a multitude of other penalties after pleading guilty to just one of 48 counts in violation of the Horse Protection Act on Tuesday, the outcry from Tennessee Walking Horse owners was incredible and there is a groundswell of support growing to either clean up a very crooked industry or actually ban it.
Ironically, a Page One story in the Nashville Tennessean on Tuesday quoted former U.S. Senator Joseph Tydings, who originally wrote the federal House Protection Act 40 years ago, as saying, "It's just as bad today" as it was when he was prompted to introduce the legislation long ago.
I got another deluge of signed emails yesterday and please allow me to use just two in hopes the federal prosecutors, our judges, our elected officials and our jurors will finally put the criminals who still thrive in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry in their proper place -- that would be jail.
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Dear Mr. Exum:
There is no doubt that Mr. McConnell is a cad. The people who work with and for him are abusers of animals, but they are far from being (the only) rogues and everyone in the industry knows it, including the Celebration management.
Ask yourself this question: if you had trainers who had received one of the government's longest awarded suspensions for soring horses and the judgment covered not only one (family member) but two, as well as their wives and a hired hand, would you, if you were a legitimate industry committed to sound horses and ethical training practices, welcome such people back into your midst with open arms when the (multi-year) suspension was complete?
There is every indication that these scofflaws continued to train horses that were exhibited through other means. If you were serious about this protection of the horse and guaranteeing a sound competition arena, wouldn't you have banned them from your industry for life?
Well, if you were the walking horse industry the answer would be "no" and to show exactly what "no" means, all you have to do is look at the winner of the 2011 World Grand Championship title. It was won by (name deleted) the violator who got this multiple-year suspension. Everyone took his money and his picture. The picture of the horse now hangs in the state capital.
(A) magazine trumpeted his praises. The audience cheered and no one ever mentioned or seemed to notice that this guy and his crew should never have been let near a horse again. Is this a one-time deal.... look at the 2010 Celebration grand champion winner, (name deleted), another multiple federal violator, just back from a recent multi-year suspension.
I could go on, right through the Hall of Famers, the Trainers of the Year, and more but it is clear to me that you already have gotten the idea that the picture that is being painted by the PR spin is not quite the real face of the industry.
The trainers know and cover up for each other. The owners know who these guys are and what their history with the law is (even if they may never have seen them in action with their own horses) and they frankly don't care.
I would remind you that to actually get a federal conviction is no easy task to accomplish. The accused "lawyer up" and it can take years to actually get the case decided. Meanwhile, the trainers keep training horses and the owners keep paying the bills; the associations continue to tell the big lie and the locals turn their heads so as not to upset the economic apple cart. The horror spins along like a well-oiled machine and there is an irony in the word "oiled."
If you are interested I can send you the violation reports for the current crop of Riders' Cup competitors in the industry. It makes for interesting reading and analysis, especially in view of what the so-called inspectors keep turning up again and again, a one foot sore violation, that just happens to come without any penalties.
Face it, trainers don't sore horses on one foot, Mr. Exum, and legitimate industries don't welcome animal abusers back into their ranks again and again, allow them to continue to compete as if they were legitimate competitors, and then crown them with the industry's highest titles at the same time they are saying that McConnell is a rogue and not representative of the rest of them.
McConnell "is" the rest of them. He just happened to get caught on an undercover video tape.
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Dear Mr. Exum,
Not that this will be a surprise, but I have to tell this to you. I have recently returned home ... from the "Panama City Beach Celebration" walking horse show April 26-29 2012. I took my prized ... stallion to compete ... but to my horror I saw that most horses in the barn were sored, even laying and moaning.
I guess my biggest surprise was that it was openly talked about ... like it was just a matter-of-fact around the barn. I had my horse near the entrance to the arena trying to get him to use to the built up walkers and the arena ... A young man walked up behind scuffing the ground (with his foot) then moving closer and repeating the scuffing (as if he was trying to hide something in the dirt.)
It was making my horse even more nervous so I looked harder -- he was moving along quickly to cover-up the bloody steps of another horse that had just broke its foot off! The young man told me this in a hushed voice, like I would understand.
My horse and the young girl that rides him were both nervous, so I had her take the horse behind the barn area to lunge him for a bit to get them working together and reduce some of their tension. I was on the sideline watching when I felt people behind me. Several trainers -- I suppose -- had lined up to watch. The one directly behind me said "You are a good horse person." I said "Excuse me?" and he repeated it.
To this day I know it was sarcasm in the remark, but I still have no idea how it was meant.
When I got back to where we were staying I sat down and just cried for the poor animals. There was a young colt next to my horse (pure white with sensitive pink skin). I witnessed him being beaten and saw the sores on his legs. This baby -- not even two -- laid on his back with his feet in the air to get relief.
My husband tried (at my pleading) to buy him so we could rescue him and bring him back with us, but the owners were not in attendance. He was traveling with his trainers/abusers and a deal could not be accomplished.
After hearing about the atrocities at the show, some of the young girls (who ride) at my barn have been trying to find ways to raise funds to rescue the white colt. Of course now, after the ABC news story, they are more determined. I still well in tears when I think about the show and my rider refuses to show at all now.
When I take my students and horses to a show I always tell them "We are happy with a 3rd place ribbon on a SOUND horse!" I sincerely hope that this is the beginning of the end of soring. My worry is that when the news becomes old, the practices will be in full force again.
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Wow! And if you think these letters are dandies, you ought to see what else is arriving in my email by the hour. Sadly, the horses can't write.