Grand Jury Indicts Horse Trainer Wheelon, Three Others

Tennessee Walking Horse trainer Larry Wheelon and three others are free on bond after a grand jury in Blount County, Tenn., indicted them on multiple animal cruelty counts for allegedly soring horses in their care.

Soring is the deliberate injury to a horse's feet and legs to achieve an exaggerated high-stepping gait. On the federal level, the Horse Protection Act forbids soring; the practice is also unlawful under Tennessee animal cruelty statutes.

Earlier this year, a visitor to Wheelon Stables complained about the condition of the horses there. On April 18, acting on a warrant, investigators from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), along with Blount County Society for the Prevention to Cruelty to Animals and Blount County Sheriff's Department personnel, examined the barn and the horses inside. Authorities determined that the examined animals were apparently sore; the allegedly sore horses were removed to an undisclosed location for rehabilitative treatment.

Authorities later arrested Wheelon and charged him with felony animal cruelty. On June 7 Blount County Sheriff's Office personnel arrested Randall Stacy Gunter of Louisville, Tenn., and Brandon Lunsford of Walland, Tenn., for allegedly working with allegedly sore horses at Wheelon's barn. Both were subsequently charged with animal cruelty. All pleaded not guilty.

In August, the felony charges against Wheelon were dropped after Blount County General Sessions Court Judge Robert L. Headrick ruled that USDA veterinary medical officer Bart Sutherland, DVM—who tested and palpated horses connected to the case—accidentally heard testimony while sitting in the courtroom for 30 minutes during the trial.

A Blunt County Circuit Court representative said that on Dec. 2, a Blount County Grand Jury indicted Wheelon, Lunsford, Gunter on 17 aggravated animal cruelty counts. Farrier Blake Trimm of Sevierville, Tenn., was also charged with 17 counts of aggravated animal cruelty. All are free on bond, the representative said.

Lunsford, Gunter, and Trimm were unavilable for comment.

Atty. Robert White, who represents Wheelon, said he is surprised that the grand jury indicted his client, welcomed the case.

“We will proceed,” White said. “I am confident that my client's name will be cleared.”

Meanwhile, Teresa Bippen, president of Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH), is glad that the case will go to court.

"FOSH is pleased that the legal system in Blount County found a way to ensure that a trial will be had on the merits of Larry Joe Wheelon,” Bippen said. “Soring is a widespread abuse that will not be eliminated until there is full sunshine on the deeds of the abusers.”

Wheelon, Lunsford, Gunter, and Trimm are all slated to go to appear in Blount County Circuit Court on Dec. 9 in connection with the charges, the court representative said.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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