4 men in federal court in horse-soring case

4 men in federal court in horse-soring case

March 16th, 2012 by Todd South in News

Horse trainer Jackie McConnell, right, leaves the Joel W. Solomon Federal Courthouse downtown with his attorney Hugh Moore on Thursday afternoon after a hearing in federal court. McConnel has been indicted for 52 counts of violations of the Horse Protection Act along with co-defendants Jeff Dockery, John Mays, and Joseph Abernathy for allegedly participating in what is known as "horse-soring," an abusive practice which causes walking horses to lift their legs higher for shows.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Coming Sunday

Read about horse soring and safe alternatives for training Tennessee walking horses.

Four men charged in a 52-count indictment involving abuse allegations at Tennessee walking horse competitions were given bond conditions and court dates Thursday.

Jackie McConnell, 60, will be back in court on March 23 to fight restrictions federal prosecutors requested for him to remain free as he awaits trial.

The Collierville, Tenn., man's attorneys, Chattanooga lawyers Hugh Moore and Tom Greenholtz, argued that McConnell should not have to give up his rights against unreasonable search and seizure nor be barred from training horses as he awaits the May 22 trial date.

McConnell's co-defendants, Jeff Dockery, 56; John Mays, 47; and Joseph Abernathy, 29, all face charges of conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act.

All but Mays face additional charges related to "horse soring," transporting and entering sored horses in show competitions and falsifying documents, according to court records.

Horse soring is using chemical or mechanical means such as kerosene or bolts to tenderize horses' feet, producing an exaggerated gait for walking horse shows.

Dockery and Mays agreed to prosecutors' conditions that they not train or care for horses other than their own property as they await trial.

Abernathy negotiated a special condition to allow him to work as a farrier as long as he provides a weekly list of customers and their contact information, which prosecutors and the probation office may review.

U.S. Department of Agriculture agents raided McConnell's Whitter Stables in February and seized eight of the 28 horses there, Moore told U.S. Magistrate Judge Bill Carter.

Moore argued that a government-selected veterinarian inspected the seized animals twice and found them to be healthy.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Neff objected to letting McConnell continue working with horses while awaiting trial.

"We're talking about criminal activity and a situation where criminal activity has been ongoing for years," Neff said.

The indictment alleges that the four participated in horse soring-related crimes from 2006 to 2011, while McConnell was under a five-year USDA suspension from horse shows.

USDA records show that McConnell has been suspended by horse industry organizations at least nine times between 1988 and 2009. Four of the violations that resulted in suspension were soring-specific.

Dockery and Mays each have at least four violations resulting in suspension, most of them soring-related. Abernathy did not have violations listed in the USDA database.

The older violations were competition-related sanctions, not criminal allegations.