On June 3, 2000, the “Horse Incident” landed Kenny Chesney, 32, and Tim McGraw, 33, in jail in Buffalo, New York. The longtime friends faced a slew of pretty serious charges, but they were completely exonerated by a jury 11 months later.
Whoa, horsey, what a ride it was. Let’s rewind back to 2000. Because this story has a lot of horsepower.
‘Facts’ of the Matter
First, keep in mind that by 2000, Tim McGraw was a bonafide superstar. Tim had topped the charts with a handful of albums and scored 11 No. 1 hits. Tim and Faith Hill married in 1996 to form country music’s power couple. Tim was a country music stud, excuse the horse reference, but there will be more. Kenny, on the other hand, had not reached the superstar stratosphere. While he was certainly on his way, Kenny wasn’t on Tim’s fame level, yet.
On June 3, 2000, Buffalo played host to the George Strait Country Music Festival at Ralph Wilson Stadium (home of the Buffalo Bills). The lineup included Tim, Kenny, George Strait, Martina McBride, Lee Ann Womack, and more.
Now, the “facts” of this story depend on who you believe: Kenny and Tim or the Erie County Sheriff’s Office. For the sake of a lengthy they-said-they-said discussion, here’s the gist.
In the backstage area of the stadium, where the tour buses were corralled, Kenny Chesney received permission to “sit” on a police horse named Chico. This is not disputed by either side. But here’s where things got muddled.
Kenny started riding the equine toward his pals. The sheriff’s deputies claimed they told Kenny to stop. Kenny did not. Two officers hopped in car and took off after Kenny. The officers exited the car and began forcibly removing Kenny from the horse. When Tim McGraw, who was coming offstage, saw Kenny in distress, he and tour manager Mark Russo got “involved.”
Kenny, Tim, and Mark were arrested. Officers claimed Tim put one of them in a headlock and choked the officer. Kenny was cited for disorderly conduct and posted a $100 bail.
Now, this is where it got serious: Tim was charged with second-degree assault (which is a felony), menacing, resisting arrest, and obstructing governmental administration. Tim posted a $2,500 bail. Mark faced similar charges, minus the assault. Of course, the “Horse Incident” made the cover of the New York Post, as well as being picked up by Us Weekly, People, and additional outlets.
If the Saddle Fits, You Must Acquit
No publicity is bad publicity. On June 12, spurred on by the hullabaloo, Kenny Chesney made his first appearance on The Tonight Show—riding a horse, no less. And, the circus continued when Faith Hill, dressed as a police officer at one of her concerts, handcuffed Tim on stage (and speaking of circuses, Tim released his new album, Set This Circus Down, in April 2001, which was an overt reference to the “Horse Incident”).
While the felony charges were dropped in August 2000, the “Horse Incident” dragged on for 11 months. Tim still faced misdemeanor assault charges. In addition, Kenny and Tim refused to admit any wrongdoing in exchange for reduced charges. In fact, if convicted of all charges, Tim faced up to one year in prison and Chesney faced 15 days. Instead, Tim and Kenny (and Mark) went to trial in Buffalo in May 2001, where they both took the stand. Tim admitted to pushing an officer but denied grabbing him by the neck.
As The Buffalo News reporter Donn Esmonde wrote on May 16, 2001: “The real crime is against common sense. Misdemeanor assault cases go to trial as often as Faith Hill wears combat boots. Usually everybody calms down, works something out and goes home.”
The Verdict: Kenny Chesney & Tim McGraw Go Free
Of course, there was still one more twist to the trial. As the trial was drawing to a close, the presiding judge suffered a heart attack. However, he was replaced, avoiding a mistrial. On May 23, the new judge instructed the jury to acquit if they believe Tim was reasonably justified in pushing the officer. After two hours of deliberation, the jury returned with a “not guilty” verdict on all charges. The courtroom crowd erupted in applause. Tim and Kenny hugged, while Faith Hill wiped away tears.
“We have been waiting 11 months to have our day in trial, we didn’t want any plea bargain, we wanted to tell our story and tell the truth,” said Tim McGraw after the verdict was reached. “The justice system works. The people of Buffalo have been wonderful to us, we have nothing against them. We’ll be back, we’ll play music here and just appreciate everybody’s support. Justice prevails.”
“Tim and I told the truth for 11 months and we sat tight, we kept our lips shut, and we told the truth this week, and the truth prevailed,” added Kenny Chesney.
Here we are 22 years later. Both Kenny Chesney (No. 13) and Tim McGraw (No. 9) are Top 20 Best-Selling Country Artists of All Time. Meanwhile, we can all have a good
neigh laugh about the “Horse Incident.”