“We ought never to do wrong when people are looking.”
Mark Twain in A Double Barreled Detective Story
At the 2014 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, Tennessee’s Jeffrey “ Jeff” Mitchell was riding high. He’d won ribbons for his big lick amateur rides aboard Putting Around by World Grand Champion The Titleist. Mitchell was cheered and applauded by his friends in the industry; now he’s in the news on criminal charges. Mitchell is afforded the presumption of innocence until proven guilty for these charges
April 2015, Mitchell, a licensed pharmacist and a once respected member of his Giles County, Tennessee community, had his picture taken again, not for a ribbon but for a mug shot. He has been charged with 55 counts of animal cruelty after 55 horses and 7 goats were seized from his property . According to investigators they were living in such filth, mire, and neglect that horse number 55 had to be euthanized on the spot by a veterinarian because of its condition. There are serious concerns that several other horses, because of their miserable state, may also lose their lives before they can be rehabilitated. You can see a photo of one of the weanlings by following the first link. Video and still photos from Safe Harbor Sanctuary, which has 8 of the horses seized, is at the second link.
Mitchell has a history of participating in horse shows in the southeast, primarily in the big lick divisions. If asked, it is likely that Mitchell would say that he “loved” those horses he put in the show ring yet, “affection" ” was not reflected in the conditions of the horse flesh found in , according to investigators, urine and feces laden pens and foot deep mud, at his property near Pulaski. It was a long way, and not just in mileage, from that show world spotlight he craved. Two weanlings were also discovered confined in a horse trailer, again filled with urine and manure, with no water in sight. The seizure included stallions, brood mares, many in foal, and young stock. The goats were confined to a dog pen filled to overflowing with excrement and there are reports that another rescue has the pitiful border collies also found on the property.
Mitchell wasn’t just a hanger-on in the show world. The resume for his horses includes at least one WGC title. In addition to his collection of amateur ribbons, Mitchell has personal HPA history and 7060 notifications for foreign substance violations. Over the years, again according to show records, Mitchell placed horses in training with professional trainers like David Landrum, a Hall of Famer with a HPA history. Landrum has long been the trainer in residence at the Franklin, Tennessee, facility owned by TWHBEA president Steve Smith, an advisor and confident of Lamar Alexander.
TV reports in the local area revealed that Mitchell had been convicted of animal cruelty twice in 2009. As a recidivist, he now faces Class E felony charges for 55 counts of alleged animal cruelty from this seizure according to published reports. He was released on $55,000 bond. The horses are being cared for by a variety of equine welfare groups based in Tennessee and the HSUS has donated funds in the amount of $16,000 to those groups to help in their initial care and medical treatment and evaluation. More donations are desperately needed as the horses' needs are many and the road to wellness will be a long and a costly one.
It would not be unreasonable to believe that Mitchell was proud of the horses he showed. He had to have loved the applause that came with those ribbon winning rides. What he did in public, though, was far different from his horse keeping practices in private.
Lamar Alexander, too, is on record about his “love” for the state’s iconic breed and his desire to preserve the family traditions involved with the performance horse. Allegations of animal cruelty against Jeff Mitchell should raise alarm bells for Tennessee’s senior state senator and champion of the big lick industry in the United States Senate.
While not directly stated, Alexander’s past public statements have inferred that uninformed or misinformed animal advocates are responsible for much of the fall from grace of the big lick horse in the public eye. Getting him to consider a different side of the story hasn't been easy.
A felony abuse case for animal abuse against big lick trainer Larry Wheelon, that has yet to come to trial over in east Tennessee, didn't get Alexander’s attention. So, let's add Mitchell to Wheelon and the allegations of animal cruelty should make the Honorable Senator begin to ask harder questions about what’s going on in his favorite state.
Alexander could start his secondary education by talking directly to Giles County law enforcement and the DA. Then he could look at the Safe Harbor Sanctuary site and ask to speak to some of the volunteers who are working with these horses. Since he has happily handed out awards at The Celebration, he might consider making a donation to one of the volunteer groups now involved in trying to save the lives of these horses used in Mitchell's breeding “program” for the show ring.
While he’s talking to his fellow Tennesseans, Alexander might also take note that Mitchell has officially joined the ranks of the industry’s ever growing “few bad apples”. The fruit of a tree that has made it into the public eye. Perhaps Mitchell , like Jackie McConnell, will be castigated by the industry in face- saving maneuvers. They will be shocked, simply shocked to discover this side of Jeff!
If convicted Jeff Mitchell could spend time in jail. Unlike the conditions at his own facility, he can expect that the jail will be sanitary and that waste will be flushed away, meals of some nutritional value will be provided with regularity, and he will have clean clothes and shelter from the elements. He’ll get more than he gave his horses. For them home was not a refuge but a place of horror.
Even should he go to jail, Jeff Mitchell will never get the chance to experience what his horses experienced at the “home” he provided for them. He may get justice from his peers but what he really needs to "get" is the experience of being cold, wet, hungry, emaciated, unable to walk because of weakness, his skin infested with mites, fly bites, and layers of dead hair and scabrous flesh. Perhaps then he would understand that what it means to be an owner of horses, to be worthy of the trust of having horses, is to be, first, a good steward of animals that can not care for themselves. It might come as a surprise to him but that stewardship must be extended even to the ones that never make it into a show ring.