Jackie McConnell Pleads Guilty to Animal Cruelty Charges

July 9, 2013. HSUS

Jackie McDonnal on right

Jackie McConnell on right

Former Hall of Fame Tennessee walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell and two associates have entered guilty pleas to charges of abusing horses in violation of the Tennessee cruelty to animals statute. McConnell pleaded guilty to 22 counts of animal cruelty, and in order to avoid jail time, agreed to a sentence of one year of house arrest followed by four years of supervised probation, a $25,000 fine, and he is prohibited from owning and training horses for 20 years. Co-defendants John Mays and Jeff Dockery pleaded guilty to 17 counts of animal cruelty and will be subject to supervised probation.

The state is seeking forfeiture of eight horses seized from McConnell’s training barn to ensure the animals are permanently rehomed and retired from the abusive show industry. At the state’s request, The Humane Society of the United States has been providing the horses with intensive rehabilitative care for more than a year. 

A Fayette County Grand Jury indicted McConnell and his co-defendants in March 2013. Those charges, along with McConnell’s federal felony conviction for charges related to conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act, stemmed from a 2011 undercover investigation conducted by The Humane Society of the United States that revealed McConnell and his associates brutally beat horses and used painful chemicals on horses’ legs in a cruel practice known as “soring.” Soring is the method trainers use to force Tennessee walking horses to perform the exaggerated, artificial gait known as the “Big Lick.” McConnell is already serving three years’ probation and has been fined $75,000 on the federal conviction. 

Leighann McCollum, Tennessee state director for The HSUS, said: “The abusive training methods used by McConnell and his associates are appalling and a clear violation of the law. He fully deserved the stiff sentence handed down as justice for the horses who were beaten over the head, shocked with a cattle prod in the face, or sored so painfully just to win a blue ribbon.”

The HSUS applauds District Attorney Mike Dunavant and Assistant District Attorney Mark Davidson for vigorously prosecuting this case, the assistance provided by USDA’s Office of Inspector General and APHIS Animal Care employees, and supports the state’s request to protect the victimized horses from being returned to their owners, who placed them in McConnell’s care.


  • For seven weeks in 2011, The HSUS conducted an undercover investigation in McConnell’s Whitter Stables. Footage of the abuse inflicted upon horses during the investigation was aired on national television in May 2012 by ABC’s Nightline, sparking national outrage, and condemnation of the practice of soring by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and lawmakers who were rightly appalled by the abuse documented.
  • H.R. 1518, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act of 2013, was introduced by lead sponsors U.S. Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., to strengthen the Horse Protection Act by ending industry self-policing, stepping up penalties, and banning “stacks” and action devices often used in the practice of soring.
  • Since July 1, 2012, Tennessee’s new felony aggravated cruelty to livestock law has created a Class E felony for any person to apply “acid or other caustic substance or chemical to any exposed area of an animal or forcing the animal to ingest the substance,” if such activity is carried out in a “depraved and sadistic manner.” 
  • Some in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry deny that soring is still a pervasive part of the training process used to produce the “Big Lick,” but the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s testing at the 2012 National Celebration in Shelbyville, Tenn., revealed that 145 horses out of 190 tested, or 76 percent, were found positive for prohibited foreign substances.
  • A 2010 USDA Office of Inspector General audit exposed how those in the walking horse industry work to evade detection, rather than comply with federal law and train horses humanely. The audit stated that the USDA needs more funding for full enforcement of the Act.



    July 10, 2013
  • Daryl

    those who have money and show get away with a lot you and the little people the book would be thrown at us. these horses keep getting the axe, no break for them. So sorry .
    JerKs just keep getting away with any thing.

    July 10, 2013
  • Nancy Albin

    I agree with marilyn! my god we need to keep fighting for stiffer charges for the abusers doing such violent painful acts to animals. These horses have suffered such pain it makes me sick hopefully someone will find them on the streets & torture them in a way that they will never heal!

    July 10, 2013
  • Robynne Catheron

    That Class E felony looks to be a joke. ‘If such activity is carried out in a “depraved and sadistic manner,”‘ as opposed to what,”happily and with joyful intent?” I knew that disgusting cretin wouldn’t do time. Come on, folks, we need to change animal rights laws. Animal abuse should be a felony offense, with no plea bargaining and mandatory jail time, in every state.

    July 10, 2013
  • Nancy B

    I agree with Robynne that the wording is bad regarding the Class E felony. Wording is important.

    I’ve been wondering about the horses. Glad to know that they will not ever be returned to the owners who knowingly sent them to be tortured and maimed! Those owners should be charged too.

    There definately should have been jail time! And for him to be banned from owning and training horses for 20 years? This should be for life! (The wording here should be owning “OR” training, btw). There should be a permanent restraining order issued to never be anywhere around horses for the rest of his life!

    I have a question… Is he not getting a stiffer sentence because the law didn’t change, becoming a Class E Felony, until July 1, 2012? (The investigation exposing his horrific, insane brutality took place in 2011)

    July 10, 2013
  • Kathryn Baker

    I hate Jackie McConnell. He is as cruel and despicable as Michael Vick.
    I would like to see him in jail until he is 100. I would like the opportunity to kick his sorry ass.

    July 10, 2013
  • Morgan Griffith

    Jackie doesn’t look like a spring chicken so this could, in effect be a ban for life. Good the horses don’t need him anywhere near them.

    July 10, 2013
  • I am so sick of horse abuse. Please fight to stop the opening of horse slaughter locations in America too. We need to stop the slaughtering once and for all. Write your Senators, Congress, etc.

    July 11, 2013
  • Mary Johnson

    I am asking for the opportunity to “sore” Jackie McConnell and I would enjoy every minute of it. This practice has been going on for years and yet very little has been done about it. It is time for those in the horse industry to refuse to participate in any horse show where the horses are abused and that includes the judges.

    July 11, 2013
  • Daryl

    Yes he should have the same thing done to him.

    July 12, 2013
  • EponaSpirit

    Animal cruelty and law enforcement is a joke, esp. in the “Southern” United States. Why not just get these animals designated as “companions” so that they fall under our animal abuse laws? How hard would that be? It would certainly afford them “some” and I mean just a bit more protection than they have now. This just makes sense.

    July 13, 2013