Home Sweet Home. It wasn't.

“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.