SHOW, the most prominent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s federally sanctioned Horse Industry Organizations, has once again denounced the actions of one of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry’s leading trainers.

Dr. Stephen Mullins, D.V.M., and President of SHOW – Sound Horse, Honest Judging, Objective Inspections, Winning Fairly – said the news report that aired on ABC’s “Night Line” Wednesday was disturbing and points to the action of an individual, not to an industry. The news report showed video of trainer Jackie McConnell of Collierville, Tenn., ostensibly beating a horse in his barn with a stick.

“This is not acceptable or condoned on any level by anyone within the Tennessee Walking Horse industry,” Mullins said. “SHOW has diligently worked to end any type of abuse of horses, and we find the behavior of this individual to be deplorable.”

McConnell was charged in March in a 52-count Federal indictment in U.S. District Court of East Tennessee for alleged violations of the Horse Protection Act. He has been under Federal suspension, and in 2009, SHOW suspended him from even being on the show grounds for any SHOW-affiliated Tennessee Walking Horse show event because he violated the terms of his USDA suspension.

“The Horse Protection Act that authorizes and sanctions HIOs is quite clear,” Mullins said. “An HIO can only examine horses at shows, sales, exhibitions, or auctions.

“The authority for an HIO is limited to the inspection and prevention of keeping a sored horse from entering or exhibiting at a horse show event. SHOW does this on behalf of and for that event’s show management. SHOW’s responsibility and authority is restricted to the horse show event and only on those show grounds. We do not possess the ability, or legal right, to go to a trainer’s place of business and inspect it or watch how he trains his horses. For anyone, including any humane organization, to suggest otherwise is not only inappropriate and disingenuous, it fails to recognize the U.S. Constitution.”

The video shown by ABC was obtained by the Humane Society of the United States when it planted an investigator in McConnell’s barn. HSUS plans to release the video on Thursday as part of its attempt to end the performance horse segment of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.

HSUS claims that a Tennessee Walking Horse cannot perform its unique high-stepping running walk gait without abuse of the horse. The USDA disputes that claim. On its website detailing Horse Protection Act information (, the USDA, with 40-plus years of observation and enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, clearly states that abusive training practices are not necessary for the horse to achieve its gait:

“Walking horses are known for possessing a naturally high gait, but in order to be successful in competition their natural gait is often exaggerated. The exaggerated gait can be achieved with proper training and considerable time; however, some horse exhibitors, owners, and trainers have chosen to use improper and inhumane training methods to shorten the time it would take to produce a higher gait without abusive practices.” 

 Recent numbers at events affiliated with SHOW support the USDA assertion. Since the inception of SHOW in April, 2009, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of horses that are HPA compliant, primarily because it has implemented a number of improvements in the preshow inspection process. Among these are:

?Increased training for those who examine horses prior to their being shown and not utilizing any inspectors who are in the horse business.
?Videoing all inspections.
?Monitoring the stable and trailer area at horse shows.
?Having the horses observed by a veterinarian in the warm-up area.
?Developing an independent hearing process for appeals.
?Hoof testing of all pleasure/flat shod horses.

 SHOW has worked diligently to formulate, improve and standardize the inspection process, including inviting industry veterinarians, former government inspectors and numerous others typically critical of the performance HIOs, to review and provide suggestions to its inspection process. The results have been the HPA compliance rate of more than 98%.
 “There is no question that there have been issues in the past, and there still are issues in some areas. 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.”
 Largely gone unrecognized by its detractors, 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 website, the USDA has a statement that its ultimate goal is to completely eliminate the inhumane practice of soring. It is a goal we share.”