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TWH industry reacts to video

Thursday, May 17, 2012

An ABC Nightline news investigation aired video Wednesday evening showing abuse inflicted by a legendary Tennessee walking horse trainer.

Consequences of that video included Pepsi-Cola withdrawing from their select sponsorship of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.

Dr. Doyle Meadows said Thursday morning it was unfortunate that Pepsi-Cola had withdrawn.

Two-way deal

"I'm disappointed in Pepsi that they didn't sit down and talk to us and get the other side," Meadows said.

Meadows also pointed out the relationship between Pepsi-Cola and The Celebration is one that's reciprocal.

"The sponsorship is a two-way street in that we purchase a tremendous amount of product from them," Meadows said, adding that the concessions, including many civic vendors, make purchases of thousands of dollars from Pepsi each year.

"I have heard from some sponsors that understand the commitment The Celebration has made to ensure a sound walking horse at our events and will continue to sponsor these activities and support the celebration," he said.

Leaders stunned

The undercover video showed Jackie McConnell, 60, abusing horses. McConnell is expected to plead guilty later this month to one count of conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act.

"You do not have to cheat to win ... We are terribly against this stuff," veterinarian Dr. Steve Mullins, president of the SHOW horse industry organization, told Nightline. SHOW inspects over 20,000 walking horses per year in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Mullins said in February.

This morning, Meadows concurred with Mullins, emphasizing the efforts The Celebration has made to clean up the industry over the last several years.

"(The Celebration Board of Directors) made a commitment to help clean up the industry by activating SHOW ... and having everyone show on a level playing field, and we have made a tremendous amount of progress in that area," Meadows said.

'Deplorable' action

Industry leaders said this morning the Nightline video was disturbing and points to the action of an individual, not to an industry.

"Mr. McConnell has not entered a horse nor shown a horse in The Celebration since 2007. His actions are deplorable, and we as a Celebration, a Celebration Board, condemn any actions of horse abuse of any breed."

The video was provided to ABC by a investigator from the Humane Society of the United States who, working undercover, was employed at McConnell's training facilities in Collierville.

HSUS criticized

Officials and members of the board of directors of The Celebration have strongly taken issue with the HSUS. They say, along with many trainers and others involved in the industry, that HSUS leaders are biased against high-stepping, "big-lick" walking horses and are making false claims of abuse.

Strong compliance

A total of 98.5 percent of horses entered in last year's Celebration were in compliance with the HPA, Meadows said.

"Very few industries, animal breeds or humane organizations have a comparable record of compliance while not having to face the degree of scrutiny of the Tennessee Walking Horse," Meadows told the T-G.

While recognizing there have been issues in the past, Mullins is looking forward.

"Our objective at SHOW is to eliminate soring and the showing of the sored horse," Mullins said. "In no way do we condone soring, and while we are not yet where we want to be -- where no horse is ever sored -- I am confident that the horses presented for inspection at our affiliated shows are clean and compliant."

Visible actions

Largely gone unrecognized by its detractors, Mullins said, SHOW has also handed out the first lifetime suspensions in industry history, going beyond the penalties that have been issued by the USDA. Also, it has worked closely with the USDA and has given data to the USDA that has led to multiple indictments.

"I cannot speak to what happens with other HIOs, but this is what we do and what we proudly do. This is what we want -- to end soring, Mullins said. "On its Web site, the USDA has a statement that its ultimate goal is to completely eliminate the inhumane practice of soring. It is a goal we share."

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