U.S. District Judge Harry S. Mattice Jr. Of Chattanooga will make that decision in September. Judges are not supposed to be influenced by public opinion, though obviously some are. Many of you have asked for Mattice’s phone number. It’s 423-752-5184.
You also can sign a number of petitions that have popped up on www.change.org. In the search box at the top, type in “walking horse” or “Jackie McConnell” or “Harry S. Mattice.”
With regrettably little media fanfare, on May 21 Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed into state law a bill that will make animal abuse a felony instead of a misdemeanor. This means that anyone who is caught in the state who is found guilty of “aggravated cruelty to livestock” can be subjected to Class E felony sentencing guidelines of “no less than one year imprisonment and no more than five years” when the new law takes effect on July 1, 2012.
The welcome bill, sponsored by State Senator Douglas Henry (D-Nashville) and Rep. Gary Odom (D-Nashville), is the most heartening news to come in the wake of a scathing undercover video that cast a nationwide pall on the state’s walking horse industry and has triggered new-found belief that the soring and abuse of show horses is still quite prevalent in the state and the industry itself.
Under the Tennessee bill, SB 2759, any persons who commit “aggravated cruelty to a livestock animal who, in a depraved and sadistic manner, intentionally engages in any conduct …. That results in serious bodily injury or the death of that animal” can be jailed, fined and could “surrender custody and forfeit all of their livestock animals in their possession.”
What constitutes “aggravated cruelty to livestock,” according to the bill, are the following offenses:
-- Setting an animal on fire;
-- Burning an animal with any hot object;
-- Cutting or stabbing an animal with any object;
-- Causing blunt force trauma to an animal;
-- Securing an animal to a vehicle and dragging it;
-- Blinding an animal;
-- Applying acid or other caustic substance or chemical to any exposed area of an animal or forcing the animal to ingest the substance;
-- Hanging a live animal;
-- Skinning an animal while it is alive;
-- Administering electric shock to an animal;
-- Drowning an animal; or
-- Shooting a (livestock) animal with a weapon.
Obviously there are exceptions to the bill, such as “dispatching rabid, diseased, sick or injured livestock animals” and while the only worrisome loophole is “applying methods and equipment used to train livestock animals,” the intent is quite clear. Prosecutors believe the bill SB-2759 will greatly enhance enforcement and prosecution of trainers such as Barney Davis and Jackie McConnell who have pleaded guilty in Federal Court of conspiracy to violate the federal Horse Protection Act.
Unfortunately, current federal guidelines include no jail time but Davis was also found guilty of obstruction of justice and threatening a witness. On those charges the gaited-horse trainer was sentenced to a year in prison, three years of supervised release and fined $4,000. Two others who also pleaded guilty at the time, associates Christen Altman and Jeffery Bradford, were each sentenced to one year of federal probation.
At the time Davis was sentenced, he alleged soring was widespread in the walking horse industry and showed examples of chains, bolts, bocks and eight-pound tungsten shoes that scofflaws use for the exaggerated gait in horse shows. He told a Federal Court “everybody” was soring the beautiful animals.
McConnell, widely-known as a “hot” trainer for the last three decades, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy in a trial last week and he and three associates - Jeff Dockery, John Mays, and Joseph R. Abernathy - are scheduled to be sentenced in Chattanooga on Sept. 10 by federal judge Sandy Mattice. Federal guidelines for violations of the Horse Protection Act are woefully weak and Judge Mattice could veer from accepting the plea deal.
As a matter of fact, the Horse Protection Act was introduced in 1970 but until federal prosecutors in East Tennessee took on Davis and McConnell at an inspector’s insistence, there have not been any guilty pleas registered in 40 years of federal oversight. Justice officials on the federal and state level, now aware of the chronic abuse and the continuing soring, vow there will be further indictments.
Celebration officials announced Monday that of 599 horses that appeared over the Memorial Day weekend at the 42nd Annual Spring Fun Show in Shelbyville, only 16 showed problems, but Keith Dane, the director of equine protection for the Humane Society of the United States, said one horse at the show had a record of eight previous HPA violations.
Dane, who is on the board of directors of the Tenn. Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association, is being blamed for the undercover video that CBS aired on “Nightline” and will face an expulsion hearing in late June from the Celebration group. The hearing, which will be closed to the public, is June 22 in Lewisburg.
McConnell, still awaiting trial in Fayetteville, Tn., on state charges next month, was banned from all Celebrations events for life last week and now other horse shows and organizations have decreed the Collierville trainer will not be welcome at events this summer.
Owners of Tennessee Walking Horses across the country are urging their states to adapt similar laws to the new Tennessee legislation and feel “jail time” is the best deterrent to the trainers and owners who will cheat in order to win a blue ribbon. firstname.lastname@example.org
In the past couple of weeks I have been accused of some things I am not in the hundreds of emails I have received from walking horse people and today, it being a slow Saturday, seems like a good time to clear some things up. Dozens have called me a hero and that’s not true. More have called me courageous, a saint, a savior, a brave warrior and all kinds of other plaudits that simply don’t fit me so let me tell you about myself and maybe you’ll recognize some other folks you know.
I don’t own a horse and, to my misfortune, I never have. But I was raised with a fierce love and a deep admiration for all of God’s animals. My earliest recollection was when a big herd of my grandfather’s milk cows chased me into a farm pond and my first chore as a little boy was to change the dog’s water every day. (Some time later I told my daddy water doesn’t “get old” and he laughed and told me, “Son, the dogs know you do it.”)
This time two weeks ago I thought the Tennessee Walking Horse was our state’s greatest symbol. It is regal and majestic and strong and brave. I still think that. But when I saw a video tape of a trainer, Jackie McConnell, whipping a beautiful horse with an electric cattle prod, it flew all over the fighting side of me. When I learned he would soon be appearing in our city’s Federal Court, I made sure my readers knew it so nobody would be nice to him when he came to town. That’s all I wanted to do.
Since then I have been drawn into a steamy and curious cauldron that I know absolutely nothing about. I have nothing against the horse show leadership in Shelbyville and I’m not here to promote any group over another. But I can neither fathom why nor stand still when I know some sadistic psychopath is willfully and knowingly hurting an innocent and defenseless animal of any kind. That, in a word, is sick and I’ll fight anybody over it.
Please, I am hardly a “bunny hugger.” I am convinced those who hunt and fish are the greatest conservationists among us. What Ducks Unlimited and the Wild Turkey Federation do is glorious. Oh, the late Erma Bombeck made us laugh when she claimed her favorite animal was “steak” but I’ll tell anybody that my dog Scooter sleeps every night nestled up against my right thigh (yes, in the bed and, if it’s cold, under the covers.)
Since I took after “Jackie the Jerk,” the Humane Society’s nauseating video has caused the walking horse cauldron to bubble over. The heat is now so intense every newspaper in Tennessee and many around the nation have railed against what turns out to be a somewhat seedy governing body. A casual look at the leadership shows that to have any standing at all it appears one must have at least one violation of the federal Horse Protection Act. Are you kidding me – of the top 20 trainers in the Rider Cup right now, there are 161 violations in just the last two years.
The boards of the Trainer’s Association, the Breeder’s Association, and the Exhibitor’s Association are rife with past violators who all cry the abuse is “isolated” and – mathematically – that is true. With 500,000 walkers that are registered and many others that are not, it is easy to reason at least 98 percent of the owners and trainers and riders are the kind you would be blessed to have as a neighbor. It’s that 2 percent -- the criminals who lust for money -- who are ruining the entire infrastructure for everybody.
When a horse’s foot literally fell off at a Florida horse show this spring, when there is so much evidence of abuse “at the top” it makes you queasy, and when they threaten to kick out the very man who created the despicable video, I don’t see how any human being with values and morals on earth can stand still.
Forget applauding the barbarians, until “we the people” oust those that include scurrilous politicians, bullies who preside over the show judges and a propaganda network that would make Hitler proud then the 98 percent who revere the horse doesn’t have a chance. They have a senator from Kentucky who is clearly trash and his former aide is now a Washington lobbyist for the clearly tainted walking horse hierarchy.
How is this? The now-reeling industry created a new group last week called the Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization. To really kick it off, they got a guy named Randall Baskin, who has owned a world champion, to jump up and pledge a matching gift of $100,000 to the roar of the crowd. My goodness gracious! He’s the same Randal Baskin who is currently suspended by the Department of Agriculture for violating the Horse Protection Act with a horse aptly named “Spotlight on Parole.” He shouldn’t have even been there!
In the Nashville Tennessean newspaper the other day a trainer by the name of Rodney Dick claimed, “We don’t do that anymore. Now in the past, I can’t say that. But I know, as of now, we don’t do that anymore.” Please, brother! The same Rodney Dick, widely known as the Trainer of the Year in 2001, is currently suspended for a violation of the Horse Protection Act.
Don’t fret; Rodney will get back in the game next Monday, his time-out finally served, and his buddy Larry Weldon, who serves on the Association’s Ethics Committee, will get off his suspension on Tuesday. Baskin, the owner of Spotlight on Parole and his trainer, Steve Dunn of Alabama, will have their suspensions lifted on July 19 to give them time for the big show in August. I’m telling you, as an animal lover I find the whole thing totally disgraceful.
I’m neither a judge nor a jury, just one guy with an opinion. I saw an X-ray of a horse’s padded front hoof the other day and I could count 30 nails and spikes that had been driven into the animal’s foot, not its hoof. Until the Humane Society video I never knew a horse could actually cry. Why the owner of that horse didn’t take a lynch mob after Jackie McConnell is a mystery to me. But I still can’t get the sound of that horse sobbing out of my ears or my heart. That’s who I am.
I’ve had more than several implore me to “watch my back” but somebody’s been threatened to whip me for most of my life and I don’t flinch real easily. My mom says that’s why I went to five high schools while my family never moved. Nope, I was taught to stand my ground early and that hasn’t changed. When you don’t stand up for what you believe then you’ll fall for anything.
Now, if I spent just five minutes to respond to each email I get every day, I wouldn’t have time to eat or sleep. I try to read all of them – especially to learn – and I deeply appreciate the fact people take the time, the trouble and the patience to write to me. For the record, I finally got the very first email on behalf of “the dark side” late Thursday afternoon but – guess what – cowards never sign their names.
I am also very appreciative of the many invitations that have come my way to horse shows, training barns and dinner tables. I’m excited about actually getting to ride a walker one afternoon this summer. I learned to ride early in life, to tie a cinch knot and to laugh at a gallop, but now I’m old and break easily.
I know that walking horses are different; all the Confederate generals in the Civil War rode walkers. So did circuit preachers and families used to hitch their walker to the family buggy long ago. That’s how gentle the ones that aren’t abused grow to be. One lady even wrote that walkers are so easy to ride they don’t even come with training wheels. So, yeah, I’m excited about that.
Thanks to the hundreds who have written to me, urging me on, and filling me in on things that “a good ole boy” would never know otherwise. I’ll still write about horses once in a while and anytime I hear an animal cry I’ll ball up my fist and be right there. Tennessee walking horses are a gift from God and let no man tear them asunder.
So that’s my story – I’m just an everyday guy who cares about horses and dogs and kids and springtime flowers. I am no hero. I am not courageous. No, I’m guess I’m just a lot like 98 percent of those who own walkers and know that sometimes we all need to hold hands, especially when the current gets running too strong. email@example.com