Eight Tennessee walking horses were rescued from the property of trainer Jackie McConnell after a federal investigation revealed illegal training methods.
Pride of Titleist, Cheers, Right or Wrong, I’m Nancy Lopez, Taj Mahal, All American Plan, Paroled in The Night and Mucho Bueno
It took Chip Burns two weeks—carefully changing the horses’ wraps every day—to finally get the skin-burning chemicals out of their ankles.
On the morning after the horses arrived, the caustic smell had sent him running through the barn to open all the doors. When Burns first removed the quilted wraps HSUS rescuers had applied to their tender ankles during the seizure, they were “green and black and nasty.”
The eight horses had been seized on March 1, 2012, with the help of The HSUS after a months-long investigation. An undercover HSUS video had shown horses thrashing in pain and being beaten in the face and shocked with a cattle prod.
Burns, an HSUS field rescuer, and his family agreed to care for the horses temporarily on their farm. And thus began the tedious process of “stepping them down” from the large weighted stacks attached to their hooves—devices that, like the chemicals, are used to forcibly enhance a Tennessee walking horse’s showy gait in order to win prizes in competitions.
Stacks would be comparable to wearing high heels for years without ever taking them off, says Aubrey Gaines, lead trainer at the Doris Day Equine Center, which is operated in Texas by HSUS affiliate The Fund for Animals. "To step them down you have to change the angle of their feet slowly so they don’t damage their tendons and ligaments." The process took more than a month, and a video of Mucho Bueno running for the first time without stacks is nothing less than inspiring.
There were emotional scars, too. Paroled in The Night would run to the back of her stall when approached. Right or Wrong would often kick the walls. "Pride of Titleist was the worst,” Burns remembers. "You’d pet him one day and then he’d kick or try to bite you the next."
Burns cared for the horses for nearly two years while the case dragged on. Over time, their trust in people grew and they even began to play. Mucho Bueno and Taj Mahal were famous for dragging their jolly ball toys across their stalls’ metal bars and trying to push them through to each other. Cheers, Paroled in The Night and I’m Nancy Lopez loved playing with their food buckets.
In 2013, three of the horses were surrendered by their owner and transferred to Doris Day, where they’re groomed daily and gently trained. On warm days, they get baths. "They’ll stand there," Gaines says, "and lick their lips and try drinking the water as it runs down their face."
Apollo (formerly Right or Wrong) now intercepts staff and volunteers for attention whenever they walk through his pasture. He also babysits a couple of yearlings and is known for gently teaching them manners. "Pride really likes the ladies,” Gaines notes, “and Luna [formerly Cheers] is a sweetheart who gets along with everybody."
But most of all, they just get to be horses. They spend about 20 hours daily in the pasture—grazing and rolling around in dusty patches on hot days.
As for the other five horses: Taj Mahal and All American Plan may soon be joining their comrades at Doris Day. I’m Nancy Lopez was returned to her owner, who promised to retire her from the show ring. The fate of Mucho Bueno and Paroled in The Night remains uncertain.