When the villainous Jackie McConnell appears in a Chattanooga Federal Court tomorrow afternoon for his long-awaited day of reckoning, I have every reason to believe the Collierville horse trainer, easily one of the most despicable felons in America today, will be sentenced in a just and most proper way. The judge, the Honorable Harry “Sandy” Mattice, is a glorious follower and staunch advocate of the U.S. Constitution, and I am both certain and pleased that he will most assuredly do the right thing.
There is no way, of course, that Judge Mattice’s ruling – whatever it may be -- will dispel the intense anger, the scathing bitterness, and the outright nausea that avid horsemen the world over now hold for McConnell and his like who continue to abuse and torture horses. Literally millions of good and decent horse lovers have now seen a tape that appeared in May of McConnell savagely and sadistically beating defenseless Tennessee Walkers and hundreds have written Judge Mattice to demand and plead for stern justice.
The overriding thought across the United States and many foreign lands is that no matter what the judge decrees, McConnell will not receive proper justice for his well-documented 30 years of constant horse abuse until the fateful day comes when he will meet his Maker and doubtlessly dance for an eternity in the hottest fires of hell. Tomorrow will just be a teaser of what is surely to come.
Sadly, if the truth be told, McConnell is virtually a nothing in the big scheme of the perverse and very sick “Big Lick” segment of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. Jackie is a mere pawn, a lowly serf in an evil Shelbyville fiefdom where a high-ranking insider said last week that “at least 40 to 45 percent” of what is lustily called the “performance horse” is “every bit as guilty” as the heavily-scorned McConnell. “They just haven’t been caught yet.”
The evidence that the well-placed source is correct is overwhelming. This summer the Nashville Banner revealed the last ten “Trainers of the Year” all have records of violating the federal Horse Protection Act and, of the Top 20 trainers involved in the Rider’s Cup competition, they have collectively 161 citations in the last two years alone.
Efforts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Humane Society of the United States have been bitterly blasted by “the dark side” of the performance industry in Shelbyville and this year’s 74th annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration last month was so filled with rancor, discord and scorn that a full 40 percent of the horses that were officially entered did not appear in the show ring.
Oddly, the Big Lick faction represents only an estimated 3 percent of the once-noble Walking Horse industry but authorities reveal that an enterprising Shelbyville businessman named David Howard has a “Hitler-like control” over the industry and his carefully-groomed followers will blindly do his bidding. The most logical reason given is because “Herr Howard,” as he is now being called in trade journals, controls the money, thus is also scurrilously now labeled as “The King of the Big Lick.”
Some believe that is the way that Shelbyville’s fiefdom actually works and, to illustrate the maze, agents have found that Howard has split the repugnant Shelbyville Walking Horse community into five different entities, which would lead one to believe that Howard himself has little involvement in bolstering any type of badly-needed reform or change. “David Howard is the head of the snake. Jackie McConnell is no more than a convenient sacrificial lamb,” said one source.
To illustrate, here is how the outline looks that breaks down the “Big Lick” industry:
S.H.O.W. – An acronym for the phrase, “Sound horse, Honest judging, Objective inspections, Winning Fairly,” David Howard is one of seven board members. (SHOW has sued the USDA in a Fort Worth, Texas, court.)
F.A.S.T. – An acronym for “Foundation for the Advancement and Support of the Tennessee Walking Show Horse,” this is a 501c3 fundraising arm that is controlled by board member Jeffery Howard, David Howard’s son.
T.W.S.H.O. – An acronym that stands for “Tennessee Walking Horse Show Horse Organization,” this newly-formed group is believed to coddle to the wishes of some wealthy “Big Lick” owners who turn a blind eye to training methods but want assurance they will not be cited when their horses are “ticketed.” Jeffrey Howard is on this board and controls it, presumably under the auspices of his father.
T.W.H.N.C. – As known as “The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.” David Howard has full control of this board of seven local Shelbyville businessmen that includes Tennessee State Rep. Pat Marsh (R).
W.H.R. – The Walking Horse Report, a weekly magazine with 85 percent advertising that is owned by David Howard and has Jeffery as its spokesman.
In other words, the five entities control the entire “performance” industry, from judging to testing to competing to awarding blue ribbons. As a result, there are a myriad of allegations, rumors and accusations that have gone unfounded, especially in recent years, and what is equally unbelievable is why those who serve on the five separate boards have not questioned nor stood in opposition of the now shaky regime, much less called on state or federal authorities if indeed there are valid reasons.
Last week, when two Representatives of Congress introduced legislation in Washington that would strengthen the Horse Protection Act, Howard’s empire was quick to denounce the effort, calling it “an attack,” but storm clouds continue to gathering quickly and with force over the imperiled industry that has most recently caused horsemen around the globe to ask “why Tennesseans are the only tribe the world over who intentionally hurts its horses?”
Two of the largest equine veterinarian groups are loudly calling for stacks, pads, chains and tight straps to be outlawed and three different trainers admitted over the summer the devices make it easy to hide soring, abuse and cheating. They also say the exaggerated, unnatural high gait is impossible to achieve without causing great harm to a horse. Now the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is joining the roar.
There have now been eight guilty verdicts prosecuted in Chattanooga’s Federal Court but Jackie McConnell is by far the biggest lout. Ironically, the scathing tape that is still a viral hit on YouTube has nothing to do with tomorrow’s sentencing. McConnell will face 14 counts of animal abuse over his film debut in a West Tennessee courtroom later this month.
The owners of the horses that McConnell battered have not been charged as an accomplice, nor did the sheriff in Shelbyville enact felony charges as required by law when several horses were found to be maimed at the Celebration in late August. But tomorrow, with horsemen around the world watching, justice will be done in Chattanooga and the noose around the Big Lick industry will gratefully – at long last -- get that much tighter.