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Horse trainer Jackie McConnell, right, leaves the Joel W. Solomon Federal Courthouse downtown with his attorney Hugh Moore.

A well-known Tennessee Walking Horse trainer pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to defraud the United States and will likely receive probation for the crime.

In federal court, Jackie McConnell, 60, entered his guilty plea alongside two of his employees, John Mays, 47; and Joseph Abernathy, 29.

All three will likely face probation for up to six months due to a plea agreement and recommendations of the U.S. Attorney's office.

McConnell's charge is considered a felony because he conspired to submit fraudulent paperwork. Due to his age prosecutors have recommended probation and the guideline range for he, Abernathy and Mays is zero to six months.

Mays is in federal custody for not reporting to his probation officer, one of his bond conditions. Both he and Abernathy pleaded to the same charge, but a lessor included offense categorized as a federal misdemeanor. The pair admitted they knowingly transported and exhibited sored horses.

The men were charged in a 52-count indictment which listed charges horse inspection and related violations of the federal Horse Protection Act along with fellow McConnell employee, Jeff Dockery, 56.

Dockery, who faces all 52 counts, as did McConnell, still has a not guilty plea listed in court records.

Prosecutors allege that the men sored horses to enter them into Tennessee Walking Horse competitions. McConnell has trained horses for more than three decades, some of which have been champions. He was named trainer of the year in 1986 by the national Walking Horse Trainers Association.

Soring is an illegal practice sometimes involving mechanical and chemical damage to the horse's feet with such items as kerosene and metal bolts. The abusive methods alter the natural high-stepping gait of the horse to achieve a coveted "big lick" step, which often helps trainers win competitions.

Last week, the Humane Society of the United States released undercover video footage by one of the association's agents which allegedly shows McConnell and others soring horses. The footage was entered as evidence in the defendant's case.

For complete details, see tomorrow's Times Free Press.