Trainer filmed abusing horses banned from show for life

NASHVILLE, Tennessee Wed May 23, 2012 9:50pm EDT

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NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - A Tennessee walking horse Hall of Fame trainer was banned for life from the most important horse show for the breed after ABC News showed a video of him abusing horses and he pleaded guilty in federal court to a charge of cruelty to animals.

Organizers of The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, the biggest annual event of the breed, said on Wednesday that trainer Jackie McConnell was barred from the Celebration and would not be allowed to set foot on the event grounds.

The ban stems from a practice called "soring" in which the front legs of a walking horses, known for their high stepping gait, are smeared with chemicals to induce pain and cause the horse to kick high in the show ring.

Last week, ABC news broadcast footage of a Tennessee Walking Horse being tortured by McConnell and employees to "teach" it to perform the award-winning high-stepping gait. The video was filmed by an undercover Humane Society activist.

After the broadcast, soft drink company Pepsi said it withdrew sponsorship of the Celebration, the annual grand championship of the walking horse industry.

McConnell was charged with 52 counts of transporting and showing abused horses but he reached an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty to a single count. His plea was entered in court on Tuesday but still must be approved by a judge.

"This whole ban and all those things we did to Mr. McConnell is indicative of our thoughts about soring or any other abuse of horses," said Doyle Meadows, CEO of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.

McConnell will be removed from the Hall of Fame. All written and photo mentions of him will be removed and any horses he has trained will be banned, Meadows said.

The plea agreement calls for him to serve probation for a term to be specified when sentencing is held September 10. Without the plea agreement he could have faced five years in prison.

McConnell's attorney Tom Greenholtz said on Wednesday that he was hopeful a judge would accept the agreement.

Two other men pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges related to the case Tuesday.

(Editing by Greg McCune and Lisa Shumaker)

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