Walking Horse Owners Sue Blount County Humane Group

A group of Tennessee Walking Horse owners is suing the Blount County, Tenn., Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BCSPCA) for more than $2 million on grounds that horses seized during an animal cruelty investigation were returned months later in a condition that precluded the animals' participation in competitions where cash prizes were awarded.

Last year USDA investigators, the BCSPCA, and Blount County Sheriff's Department personnel examined the barn at Wheelon Stables in Maryville, Tenn., and the horses inside. Law enforcement and animal welfare authorities determined that all the examined animals were allegedly sore, and the horses were removed to an undisclosed location for rehabilitative treatment. Tennessee Walking Horse trainer and farm owner Larry Wheelon was later charged with multiple counts of animal cruelty for allegedly soring the horses; he pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Records obtained from Blount County Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher's office indicate that, on April 25, seven owners of 19 Tennessee Walking Horses seized during investigation filed a $2.1 million complaint against the BCSPCA, Gino Bachman, and Kellie Bachman (the latter two both as individuals and in their capacities as BCSPCA officers). The complaint alleges that none of the owners were alleged to have taken part in illegal activity, and that the seized horses received substandard care while in BCSPCA custody. The lawsuit further alleges that owners had no knowledge their horses were seized, and the animals had “missed an entire show season at which they would have been able to win prize money, maintain profits, and become a profitable commodity for the sale of said equine livestock” when the horses were returned last November.

The plaintiffs' attorney Robert H. White was unavailable for comment.

Bachman said the BCSPCA performed the seizure according to Tennessee law governing the gathering and retention of evidence. He also said the horses' owners were informed that their horses had been seized.

“We did everything by the book according to Tennessee law,” Bachman said. “The owners knew within 48 hours that their horses had been taken in the seizure, but they did not know exactly where they were.”

Bachman also said the horses were well cared for in BCSPCA custody.

“These horses were in better shape than when we got them,” Bachman said. “We had a veterinarian on-site and the horses were cleared by their owners.”

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs seek a jury trial in the case. The lawsuit remains pending.

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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