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Groups react to McConnell sentencing

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

CHATTANOOGA -- "This 'big lick" has got to go!"

Keith Dane, left, of the Humane Society of the United States, and former senator Joseph Tydings, who wrote the Horse Protection Act 42 years ago, addressed the media Tuesday calling for stronger teeth in a federal law to protect the animals.
(T-G Photo by Brian Mosely)
Those were the words of the senator who wrote the Horse Protection Act (HPA) 42 years ago.

Following the sentencing hearing of Jackie McConnell, Keith Dane of the Humane Society of the United States and former senator Joseph Tydings urged lawmakers to pass an amended HPA that would make soring a felony.

Dane said that people may forget McConnell but will never forget the images of him abusing horses in an undercover video shown worldwide in May.

Industry responds

Soon after the judge accepted the McConnell plea agreement, the Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization (TWSHO) reaffirmed its commitment to reform and the elimination of soring trainers in the walking horse industry.

"Those who abuse horses should be held accountable and we hope that today's sentencing sends a message to those who hurt horses that this type of activity will not be tolerated," said TWSHO spokesman Jane Lynch Crain. "The vast majority of people in the walking horse industry are involved in the sport because they love the walking horse and it is unfortunate that a few soring trainers have tarnished the reputation of the industry and the deeds of those involved.

"To rid the Industry of soring trainers TWSHO has been working to implement unprecedented horse safety reforms that include stricter inspections and harsher penalties. Industry reform efforts have resulted in a higher rate of compliance with the Horse Protection Act. Our goal is to ensure that all horses are healthy and sound and we are eager to work in partnership with all parties interested in putting horse safety first."

'Voice for the horse'

While McConnell apologized to his friends and family, members of the media pointed Thursday following the sentencing out that he never apologized to the horses he harmed.

Dane thinks the case will bring about changes, noting that a bill co-sponsored by Reps. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), and Jim Moran (D-Va.), would, if passed, add more fines and penalties to those caught soring horses.

The bill would also end the system of the horse industry's self-policing and ban the use of certain devices commonly associated with soring, such as chains and pads.

History claimed

"This is a chronic problem," Dane claimed. "This industry is steeped in soring, it's been going on for 40 years, the government has not been able to crack down on it."

Congressional interference and a lack of support for the USDA have occurred, Dane said.

Law's 'loopholes'

The law that Tydings passed in 1970 "has loopholes and limitation" that allowed the practice to continue, and Dane hoped that the Horse Protection Act Amendments of 2012 would put more teeth in the law.

He said they he could not believe that 42 years later, they would be witnessing only the third conviction for violating the law.

Tydings claimed that powerful political figures in Kentucky have held up funding and enforcement of the HPA for over 40 years.

He also urged Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to support the new bill that strengthens the penalties for soring.

Industry criticized

McConnell's fine of $75,000 was called "significant," but Dane said that McConnell acquired his wealth through decades of torture of horses.

Tydings said that the tragedy of the situation was that "a culture has risen in Tennessee and Kentucky ... that it was quite alright to violate the law."

He called the "big lick," the type of stride that made the Tennessee Walking Horse famous, "a bastardized gait."

"It's a phony gait that's based on the greed of owners and trainers, it's based on cruelty to horses," he said. "Your stomach has to be turned by what's going on."

He also criticized the University of Tennessee for having a walking horse paraded around Neyland Stadium in Knoxville during homecoming.

"The people of Kentucky and Tennessee say you've got to stop this vicious abuse of horses," he said.

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