Wheelon, Three Others Plead Not Guilty to Charges

Tennessee Walking Horse trainer Larry Wheelon and three others have pleaded not guilty to animal cruelty charges for allegedly soring horses in Blount County, Tenn.

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. They later 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 a judge 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.

On Dec. 2, a Blount County Grand Jury indicted Wheelon, Lunsford, and 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 freed on bond, said a Blount County District Court representative.

On Dec. 9, a district court representative said, Wheelon, Lunsford, Gunter, and Trimm appeared in Blount County District Court and pleaded not guilty to all the charges against them.

Wheelon's attorney Robert White was unavailable for comment on the plea. Atty. Taylor Weiss, who represents Lunsford in the case, was also unavailable for comment.

Atty. Brian Nichols, who represents Primm, said facts of the case will prove his client is innocent.

“We pleaded not guilty because my client is not guilty,” Nichols said.

The court representative said Gunter did not enter a plea because he requested a public defender and was referred to the public defender office.

Wheelon, Lunsford, Gunter, and Trimm are all slated to next appear in Blount County Circuit Court on Feb. 10, 2014, 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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