Federal Grand Jury Indicts Horse Trainers of Soring An undercover investigation filmed trainers abusing Tennessee Walking Horses which lead to this indictment. © HSUS

Federal Grand Jury Indicts Horse Trainers of Soring, Conspiracy

Two days after a horse trainer was sentenced to prison for crimes related to soring horses, a federal grand jury has indicted four more industry professionals for similar crimes.

The 52 count indictment was unsealed today and charges co-defendants Jackie McConnell, Jeff Dockery, John Mays, and Joseph Abernathy with conspiracy and inspection violations related to the Horse Protection Act.

The crimes allegedly began in 2006 and continued through September 2011. Tennessee Walking Horse trainer McConnell was on the USDA’s five year suspension list for prior HPA violations. Court documents state McConnell operated his boarding and training business out of his Whitter Stables “under the false pretense of running a fully HPA-complaint business” to gain additional business while he “intentionally used the practice of “soring” horses.”

Documents allege the defendants would “utilize various methods to “sore” horses on a regular basis before competition to accentuate their gait in front of the judges, with such soring methods to include placing chemical irritants on horses’ pasterns.”

Horse soring is the abusive practice of applying highly painful chemicals (such as mustard oil or kerosene) and heavy metal chains on horses’ lower front legs, forcing them to lift their feet in an exaggerated way in an effort to seek relief from the pain.

The documents further allege the men “would attempt to mask the soring efforts by “stewarding” the horses in order to reduce the level of reactions to inspections.” Stewarding is the practice of applying blunt force to a horse’s head or nose when it displays an obvious reaction to pain.

The documents state they allegedly would also “use black ink markers to color in scarred areas to avoid detection.”

Investigators allege that most of the violations occurred at the annual National Walking Horse Trainers Show held in March 2011; at the Spring Fun Show held in May 2011; and at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in August and September 2011.

If convicted, each defendant could face a maximum term of three years in prison for each felony count and up to one year in prison for each misdemeanor.

A trial date has not been scheduled.

Spotted horse trainer Barney Davis and two co-defendants were sentenced Monday. Davis was given a year in prison, although he has already spent more than six months behind bars. He could be released as early as July.

The Humane Society of the United States paid a $10,000 reward to the person that provided the evidence leading to Davis’ arrest and conviction.