Larry Joe Wheelon, the tainted horse trainer who was charged with 18 counts of aggravated animal cruelty when his barn was raided in April of 2013 and some animals were sored so badly that they could barely walk, finally went to a court hearing in Blount County on Wednesday and his steps toward Judge Tammy Harrington’s bench were decidedly heavy. My goodness, yours would have been too if, like Larry Joe, you had been cited just 12 days earlier on what is believed to be yet another violation in a long string of violations against the federal Horse Protection Act.
As unbelievable as it may appear, on July 12 Wheelon and another defendant, Randall Stacy Gunner, attempted to enter a “sored” Tennessee Walking Horse in the Chestnut Hill Horse Show at Dandridge and officials immediately denied entry to the horse, aptly named “Shock It To Me,” due to the inspector’s claim that there was a unilateral sore on one of the front legs. The horse’s owner, Sharon Lambdin of Heiskell, Tn., was also ticketed.
Wheelon, now age 68 and once the chairman of the Ethics Committee for the Big Lick’s much-maligned Trainer’s Association, and his assistant have reportedly been suspended for 90 days (July 15-Sept. 12) by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for taking a “hot” horse to the Dandridge show but that didn’t stop him and three other men from appearing in court on far more serious charges yesterday.
Wheelon, Gunter, and a third barn worker, Brandon Randall Lundsford of Walland, are facing 13 felony counts and five more misdemeanor counts this week as the hearing gets underway while a fourth man, farrier Blake Tanner Primm, is facing one felony and one misdemeanor charge. Primm is believed to be the first farrier to ever be arrested for aggravated horse abuse.
Under a state law, each felony could carry a jail sentence in Tennessee if the defendants are found guilty. Animal abuse was signed into law as a felony two years ago in Tennessee but, under federal law, soring is still a misdemeanor. The PAST (Prevent All Soring Tactics) now moving through the House and Senate would greatly enhance enforcement and conformity after the Big Lick trainers and other scoff laws have laughed off the Horse Protection Act since it was originally signed in 1970.
Many witnesses at the Wheelon barn when it was raided on April 18, 2013, said they were sickened as 19 horses had to be taken and put in quarantine. One was in such pain it bolted from an experienced handler, breaking the woman’s leg and causing other injuries.
Members of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals told reporters they had “never seen anything like it” and video and pictures taken by the Humane Society of the United States were graphic in their evidence. Veterinarians are expected to show those images during the upcoming trial. The next hearing has been set for Aug. 8.
Horse experts say it is impossible to achieve the Big Lick without coating the horse’s forelegs in caustic mixtures and then wrapping them in heavy Saran Wrap to “cook” for several days. The inflamed legs cause the horses to lift their legs high in a grotesque, unnatural dance. The pain literally causes some Walkers to die early; the owners crying “colic.”
In the meanwhile, Gannett News Service is reporting Rep. Ed Whitfield, who now has 304 members of Congress (70 percent) in favor of the PAST Act that will greatly help in the fight against sadistic soring, is considering what is called a discharge petition to force the measure to vote before Congress takes its summer vacation, a ruse the bill’s opponents are quietly gauging.
The PAST Act has been endorsed by every large equine organization in the United States, as well as the nation’s leading veterinarian groups. Oddly, the biggest resistance has come from two states where the worst offenses occur – Tennessee and Kentucky. There are mounting accusations the Big Lick has bought favor with its political swag and proponents of the PAST Act are “incredulous,” according to close observers.
It is believed Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) is doing all in her power to block the bill from her seat as Vice Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Blackburn is vehemently against the “Prevent All Soring Tactics” bill after the evil Big Lick segment of the Walking Horse industry allegedly paid thousands of dollars into her reelection campaign at a benefit last August. She got Tennessee’s other Republican members of Congress – including Chuck Fleischmann (R-Ooltewah) and Scott DesJarlais (R-Jasper) -- to cosponsor her softer alternate legislation.
Lamar Alexander, whose opposition to the PAST Act and other animal advocacy bills is well-noted, has penned a weak alternate bill in the Senate. It is believed a big reason is that Alexander’s state campaign chairman is Steven B. Smith, a known Big Licker who wrestled away control of the Walking Horse all-powerful Breeders and Exhibitors Association this winter.