McConnell, the industry's trainer of the year in 1986, and two of his employees pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to defraud the United States. "All three likely face probation for up to six months after a plea agreement and recommendations of the U.S. attorney's office," reports Todd South of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Still, some "walking horse faithful" said the convictions "could deter future horse abuse," South writes.
McConnell's violation involved false paperwork, but his employees pleaded guilty to transporting and showing horses that were victims of soring, "an illegal practice sometimes involving mechanical and chemical damage to a horse's feet with such items as kerosene and metal bolts," South reports. "The abusive methods alter the natural high-stepping gait of the horse to achieve the coveted 'big lick' step, which often helps trainers win competitions."
Tracy Simmons of the Shelbyville paper reports that national coverage of the case has influenced "local public perception" of the industry. She based that on interviews, posts to the paper's Facebook page and responses to an online poll. (We think any such polls should note that they are not reliable representations of public opinion, because their samples are self-selected and not scientific, but they are more legitimate when combined with social media and interviews.)
The paper also published a letter to the editor, from Barry Childers of Shelbyville, recalling how "The Celebration started out as a simple fundraiser horse show for the Lions' Club and Rotary Club and has grown to be one of the most prestigious events in the world, resulting in a $40,000,000 impact on our area each year," and has taken steps to prevent the showing of sored horses. But this week's convictions were the first in perhaps 20 years, under a law passed in 1966.