Statement on Convicted Horse Abuser Jackie McConnell Returning to Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration

Horses' hooves covered by soring stacks to force horse to step higher.
Horses' hooves covered by soring stacks to force horse to step higher. APHIS veterinarian Todd Behre

Newsdate: Tuesday, September 7, 2021 - 11:35 am
Location: SHELBYVILLE, TENNESSEE

Following a report by BillyGoBoy.com, that convicted Tennessee Walking Horse abuser *Jackie McConnell (*See note at end of article)attended the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration on Friday night, Animal Wellness Action (AWA) executive director Marty Irby released the following statement:

Monty Irby and Priscilla Pressley walking down hallway at the Nation's Capitol.

Monty Irby and Priscilla Pressley walking down hallway at the Nation's Capitol

The Celebration should uphold its lifetime ban on McConnell and go further to ban the use of large-stacked shoes, and ankle chains that have perpetuated the six-decade-long scourge of soring at the event.
© 2019 by Holly Gann New window.

“Allowing Jackie McConnell to return to the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration is a disgrace that has given both Celebration and Governor Bill Lee, who attended the event on Saturday night, another black eye. The Celebration should uphold its lifetime ban on McConnell and go further to ban the use of large-stacked shoes, and ankle chains that have perpetuated the six-decade-long scourge of soring at the event.

“As one of the largest USDA certified inspection programs in the breed, the Celebration’s subsidiary – the SHOW HIO – has the power to eradicate these gruesome devices from their events and prevent horse abusers like McConnell from attending.”

Leaders at AWA have worked to enact the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act since 2012 when it was first introduced in the U.S. House by Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. The original measure would ban the use of large, stacked shoes and ankle chains in the showring, eliminate the industry’s failed self-policing program, and would increase penalties for those caught soring horses.

The PAST Act only achieved passage through the House in 2019 as result of changing the bill’s name to the U.S. Senator Joseph D. Tydings Memorial PAST Act to honor the late Joe Tydings – who authored the HPA in 1970 and passed away in 2018 – a strategy developed by AWA, the Citizens’ Campaign Against Big Lick Animal Cruelty, and the Tydings family.

The measure – then led by Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Ted Yoho, R-Fla., the two veterinarians in Congress at the time – cleared the U.S. House by a vote of 333 to 96, but with opposition from Senators who hailed from Tennessee and Kentucky and 96 House Republicans opposing the measure, the bill was dead on arrival in the Upper Chamber. In light of that circumstance AWA pulled together representatives still involved in the breed to form revisions to the PAST Act that would help get the measure through the Senate.

And after eighteen grueling months and hundreds of hours on the phone with the industry insiders, coalition partners issued a draft of the compromise bill to the Senators and several equine and animal protection groups that would have insured 2021 to be the last TWHNC with the use of large stacked shoes and ankle chains on the horses’ feet.

Like the original PAST Act, the revised PAST Act still banned the chains but allowed for a much smaller and removable shoe (about sixty percent less in size than those used today), and it still increased the penalties, eliminated the self-policing scheme, and even went further than the original PAST Act to ban the use of tail braces that hold the horses tail in a U-shaped position after the ligaments in the tail have been severed – all for a certain look.

Had the compromise been enacted at the end of 2020, it would be law this November, forbidding a wide range of cruel practices long endemic to the industry. But the effort was torpedoed by the Humane Society of the U.S. and Humane Society Legislative Fund who continue to fund raise off the demise of the Tennessee Walking Horse breed.

The compromise effort garnered support for the revised PAST Act from Monty Roberts, “the Man Who Listens to Horses;” Mark Miller – the lead singer of the band Sawyer Brown who used to own walking horses; the Citizens’ Campaign Against Big Lick Animal Cruelty; the family of Joe Tydings; SPCA International; NYCLASS; and dozens of equine and animal related groups.

The PAST Act, despite strong leadership by Senators Mike Crapo, R-Ida., and Mark Warner, D-Va., has never come up for a vote in the Senate since it was introduced in the Upper Chamber in 2013. Opposition from lawmakers from Kentucky and Tennessee continue to stall the measure indefinitely in the Senate.

* in May of 2012, while I stood judging a walking horse show in Germany where only the walking horse’s natural gait is allowed to be exhibited, ABC Nightline released an undercover video and story about Jackie McConnell. McConnell was one of the top world grand champion trainers, and the video broadcast that night exposed the barbaric soring and beating of horses. Soring is the intentional infliction of pain to horses’ front feet by applying caustic chemicals like mustard oil, and kerosene to the skin, and inserting sharp objects into the soft tissue of the hoof to produce the high-stepping pain-based “Big Lick".

About Animal Wellness Action

Animal Wellness Action (Action) is a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(4) organization with a mission of helping animals by promoting legal standards forbidding cruelty. We champion causes that alleviate the suffering of companion animals, farm animals, and wildlife.

We advocate for policies to stop dogfighting and cockfighting and other forms of malicious cruelty and to confront factory farming and other systemic forms of animal exploitation.

To prevent cruelty, we promote enacting good public policies and we work to enforce those policies. To enact good laws, we must elect good lawmakers, and that’s why we remind voters which candidates care about our issues and which ones don’t. We believe helping animals helps us all.


Press release by Marty Irby

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