Tennessee Horse Trainer Charged in Soring Case

Tennessee Walking Horse trainer Larry Wheelon is free on bond after being arrested for allegedly soring 19 horses at his Maryville, Tenn., farm. Soring is causing 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 the practice, which is also unlawful under Tennessee animal cruelty statutes.

Gino Bachman, president and cruelty investigator for the Blount County Society for the Prevention to Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), said that earlier this month, a visitor to Wheelon Stables complained about the condition of the horses there. On April 18, acting on a warrant, investigators from the USDA, along with Blount County SPCA and Blount County Sheriff's Department personnel, examined the barn and the horses inside. During that investigation USDA authorities palpated the horses' feet and videotaped the procedure, Bachman said. All the examined horses were apparently sore, Bachman said.

“(The horses) were so sore that they would just shake when you touched them,” Bachman said. “Investigators couldn't finish examining one horse because it was so sore, and one horse laid down in its stall and just moaned.”

USDA authorities subsequently placed the barn under quarantine, Bachman said.

Leighann McCollum, Tennessee state director for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), said that on April 25, personnel from the Blount County SPCA, Horse Haven of Tennessee, and HSUS removed 19 horses from the Maryville property.

“Some of the removed horses belong to Wheelon and some belong to his clients,” McCollum said. “(The horses) are safe at an undisclosed location.”

Blount County law enforcement personnel subsequently arrested Wheelon and charged him with one count of felony aggravated animal cruelty, McCollum said.

Blount County Sheriff's Department Public Information Officer Marian O'Briant said that a following his arrest, Wheelon was incarcerated at the Blount County Jail. He is currently free on $5,000 bond, O'Briant said.

Wheelon was unavailable for comment. Calls to Wheelon Stables were answered by a recording advising that the farm telephone was disconnected. A telephone call to his home was answered by a woman who said, “He's at work; he's not here.”

According to the Sound Horses, Honest Judging, Objective Inspections, Winning Fairly (SHOW) website, Wheelon is a judge for that horse industry organization, which manages the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.

No one from SHOW was available for comment on Wheelon's arrest.

Wheelon is also listed as a director of the Walking Horse Trainers' Association, Inc. According to the organization's website, Wheelon's term as a director expires on Dec. 31, 2013.

No one from the Walking Horse Trainers' Association was available for comment on the case. Likewise, no one from the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association was available for comment.

McCollum said that the investigation into the case was ongoing.

O'Briant said Wheelon is slated to appear in court on April 30 in connection with the charges.

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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