Jackie McConnell shown "stewarding" a horse. All horses were removed from his care earlier this year.
A week before his scheduled sentencing, prosecutors are asking the court to impose the maximum penalties in the Jackie McConnell soring case. McConnell pleaded guilty to one count of Conspiring to Violate the Horse Protection Act (HPA), out of a fifty-two count indictment.
Court documents state the charge McConnell pleaded guilty to “constituted the most serious offense with which the defendant was charged.” The maximum punishment he could have received would have been 5 years behind bars, 3 years probation, and a $250,000 fine.
A plea deal means prosecutors agreed to take the jail time off the table because of his age, failing health, and lack of criminal record. Even with these factors, the government is asking for the maximum probation term and a large fine “commensurate with the defendant’s long standing practice of soring and disregard for the law.” According to the pre-sentence report, McConnell’s net worth is listed as more than $2.2 million. In addition, prosecutors are asking that McConnell not be allowed to own, exhibit, sell, transport, work, train, or assist in the training of horses during his probation.
Prosecutors note McConnell has a history of violating federal laws aimed at protecting horses. “He committed his crimes while under a disqualification ordered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the very types of acts which are the subject of the criminal case.”
Soring is the intentional infliction of pain to a gaited horse’s legs or hooves in order to force the horse to perform an artificial, exaggerated gait in the show ring. The practice, utilized by some horse trainers, is not only abusive but also illegal. Bolts are driven into horses’ hoofs, foreign objects are attached to horses’ legs, or chemicals like mustard oil are used to produce pain and sensitivity to alter the gait. A sored horse tries to escape the pain in his front end, so it will snatch its legs up quickly, and gives tremendous lift in the front. The action is known as the “big lick”, which is big business.
Undercover video hit the mainstream airwaves earlier this year showing McConnell soring, beating, and shocking horses with a cattle prod. To minimize the horses’ pain response McConnell is seen in the video “stewarding” a horse or hitting it in the head when it displayed a pain reaction. Documents state McConnell and his associates “would attempt to mask the soring efforts by “stewarding” the horses in order to reduce the level of reactions to inspections.” The sobering video has many talking about what reforms are needed to stop the abusive practice sooner rather than later.
McConnell’s sentencing is currently scheduled for September 18.