Wheelon Suspended Amid Soring Charges

The license of a Tennessee Walking Horse trainer accused of soring horses at his Maryville, Tenn., farm has been suspended by Sound Horses, Honest Judging, Objective Inspections, Winning Fairly (SHOW), the horse industry organization that manages the flagship event for the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.

Soring is the deliberate injury to a horses feet and legs to achieve an exaggerated high-stepping gait. On the federal level the Horse Protection Act (HPA) forbids soring, and the practice is also unlawful under Tennessee state animal cruelty statutes.

On April 25, personnel from the Blount County Blount County Society for the Prevention to Cruelty to Animals, Horse Haven of Tennessee, and Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) removed 19 horses from the Wheelon Stables in Maryville on grounds that the horses had been sored. The allegedly sored horses were placed in a safe location for rehabilitation. Blount County law enforcement personnel subsequently arrested trainer Larry Wheelon and charged him with one count of felony aggravated animal cruelty. Wheelon is free on bond.

Wheelon said by telephone that he had no comment on the case, but that his lawyer might comment in the future.

Blunt County Sheriff's Department Public Information Officer Marian O'Briant said that the investigation into the soring allegations continues. Paul Feeney, deputy counsel of the USDA Office of Inspector General (OIG) declined comment on the case.

“OIG does not comment on our investigative activities,” Feeney said. “We decline to comment on whether we are, or are not, engaged in a particular investigative situation.”

According to the SHOW website, Wheelon is a judge for that horse industry organization, which manages the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.

On April 29, Mike Inman, chief executive officer for The National Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration, said that SHOW had suspended Wheelon's license while the investigation into the soaring allegations is ongoing.

Wheelon is also listed as a director on the Walking Horse Trainers' Association, Inc. According to the 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.

On April 30, Tracy Boyd president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association (TWHBEA) said in a written statement that charges against Wheelon are “disturbing.” “The abuse allegedly endured by horses under the care of Larry Wheelon, if proven true, is disturbing and we are glad that those horses are now receiving proper care,” Boyd's statement said. “Mr. Wheelon will have his due process under our legal system and we will await that result (and) everyone at TWHBEA looks forward to the day when all horses are treated only with the utmost care and respect.”

Also on April 30, Wheelon appeared in Blount County General Sessions Court. His next court appearance is slated for May 14.

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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