A large number of the famed Tennessee Walking Horses have been tortured and beaten in order to make them produce the high-stepping gait that wins championships, an ABC News investigation has found.
The shocking video shows the horses being tortured and beaten and the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration in Shelbyville is already dealing with fallout from the investigation.
Earlier this year, authorities arrested and charged trainer Jackie McConnell and three others for soring, the illegal practice that forces the horses to exaggerate their trademark strut.
However, video obtained by ABC News allegedly shows McConnell and his stable hands stewarding the horses.
Stewarding is the process of inflicting pain on a horse to distract from the pain of soring on its feet.
According to Dr. Stephen Mullins, president of SHOW Horse Industry Organization, the group in charge of inspecting horses at the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration, when the horse reacts to pain, they beat the animal to train it to not to react.
Mullins said he is repulsed by the video that shows horses being beat with wooden sticks and shocked with electric cattle prods.
“It was absolutely disgusting and it was distrusting to me,” he continues.
Mullins says they can't inspect what happens behind the barn doors but his organization has a goal to stop soring and suspend trainers who break the rules.
He adds stewarding is an old practice that he is surprised still happens.
“It is surprising. It's something I would have expected 30, 40 years ago when the Horse Protection Act was came about,” he said.
Mullins reiterates that the sport shouldn't be looked down on because one trainer breaks the rules.
He continued, “That's one individual trainer to broad brush all trainers the same as that is disturbing to me.”
As a result of the investigation, Pepsi, one of the celebration's sponsors, has pulled out of the event.
In a statement, Dr. Doyle Meadows, CEO of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, said, in part, “Pepsi has been a great corporate sponsor with us since 2010 and we hope that in the near future we can come back together for a partnership to benefit both parties. We appreciate and have a tremendous amount of respect for all of our corporate sponsors. The Celebration has worked extremely hard over recent years to gain the trust of our corporate partners and we would do nothing to destroy that relationship.”
McConnell, 60, was named in a 52-count indictment in March, along with 54-year-old Jeff Dockery, 50-year-old John Mays and 30-year-old Joseph Abernathy.
Penalties for violating the Horse Protection Act carry a maximum fine of $5,000 and up to three years in prison.
The video of the alleged stewarding will be seen publicly for the first time Wednesday night on the ABC News program “Nightline.”