A Maryville horse trainer has been charged with one count of felony animal cruelty on suspicions of soring after a raid on his farm.
Authorities seized 19 horses at the barn of Larry Wheelon.
Horse abuse carries a one-to-five year jail term on each count. Wheelon's arrest was the first in Tennessee since horse abuse became a felony last July.
The Humane Society of the United States assisted the Blount County Sheriff’s Office, Blount County SPCA and Horse Haven of Tennessee with the seizure.
Soring is the application of caustic chemicals and painful devices to the hooves and legs of horses to produce the artificial high-stepping “Big-Lick” gait for horse shows.
Officials said additional charges are possible pending the outcome of the investigation.
The sheriff’s office assisted in serving a search warrant last Thursday after receiving a tip about possible animal cruelty. Authorities said they discovered horses visibly in pain and several barely able to stand.
Wheelon, who is an active director of the Tennessee Walking Horse Trainer’s Association and sits on its ethics committee, has been cited by inspectors at least 15 times for violations of the federal Horse Protection Act between 1993 and 2012. He is also a AAA-rated judge with Shelbyville, Tn.-based S.H.O.W, which is the largest of the USDA-certified horse industry organizations that self-police competitions.
As the horses were being moved, one horse was found to be in such pain that when something brushed the animal’s bloody foreleg in a barn walkway, the animal rushed the experienced equine handler, badly cutting her face and breaking her leg. The handler, who has been working with horses for years, was transported by ambulance to a local hospital.
The horse was quickly caught and sedated by veterinarians, who also began pain treatment for the animal.
“Seeing these horses suffering so badly that they can hardly stand is heartbreaking, but being able to assist in this investigation and today’s rescue gives us some solace,” said Gino Bachman, president of the Blount County SPCA.
Leighann McCollum, Tennessee state director for The HSUS, said: “These horses are clearly in extreme pain – some of them from having chemicals applied to their skin and bolts driven into the soles of their hooves. We are grateful to be able to help rescue them so they will no longer have to suffer like this, simply for the sake of a blue ribbon. We commend the Blount County SPCA and Blount County Sheriff’s Office for their hard work and dedication on this case.”
Gino Bachman, president of Blount County SPCA, said: “Seeing these horses suffering so badly that they can hardly stand is heartbreaking, but being able to assist in this investigation and today’s rescue gives us some solace.”
The horses will be thoroughly examined and receive any necessary immediate medical treatment and will be cared for at an undisclosed location pending the final disposition of this case, officials said.
This is the second time in two years that a Tennessee walking horse trainer has faced animal cruelty charges in Tennessee. Last month, a Fayette County Grand Jury indicted former Tennessee Walking Horse Hall of Fame trainer Jackie McConnell and two co-defendants on 38 counts of animal cruelty for illegally soring and torturing horses.