In what was described as “a scene from some sick horror movie,” Giles County sheriff’s deputies and animal welfare officers raided the farm of known “Big Licker” Jeffery Alan Mitchell near Pulaski, Tn., last week and confiscated 55 Tennessee Walking Horses, all horribly malnourished and some that were so emaciated they could no longer walk. By Sunday, the horses were receiving medical attention and care at several rescue facilities while Mitchell, who has quite a record of abusing horses in the past, was free on a $55,000 bond after being served with 55 counts of felony horse abuse.
According to Giles County Chief Deputy Tommy Chapman, “The animals were not in good physical health." Two weanlings were found in a horse trailer without food or water and Jamie Clifton, one of the rescuers, said both young horses were still in critical condition yesterday.
He said, “On what we call a Body Condition Scale, with ‘1’ being skin-and-bones and ‘9’ being obese, the entire herd was ‘2’ or less. These animals are in real bad shape."
“The veterinarians have already euthanized one horse and we have immediate concerns over a couple of others, plus the weanlings,” said Clifton, who is the executive director of Volunteer Equine Advocates in Gallatin. “We’ve taken the animals to different secure locations but it is going to be a long time before they are ‘4’ to ‘5’ on the Body Condition Scale, which is what would be normal for a Tennessee Walker.”
Many of the confiscated horses will have to be shaved, the filth in the animals’ hair now like concrete, and most were standing in a filthy mix of excrement, mud, foul hay, and dirt. There was no food anywhere and it was estimated it had been days, or weeks, since the animals had eaten. “It’s unspeakable what these horses have endured,” said Clifton. “The neglect has really taken a toll on them and we still have a couple that are too sick to transport very far.”
Mitchell, allegedly fired as a pharmacist in Pulaski following his arrest, is known for his connection with the “Big Lick” arm of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry where soring methods are used to force the animals to perform a grotesque and unnatural dance called “The Big Lick.” Mitchell was said to be enamored by the Big Lick and adored the status that came with a blue ribbon, even if it meant soring a helpless horse and much worse.
According to USDA records, Jeffery Mitchell has been ticketed four times for violating the Horse Protection Act while “Mark Mitchell,” of the same address, has violated the federal law seven times. Oddly, Jeffery and Mark were each ticketed on three horses in 2010 and 2011 – Blueberry Dollar, Mo Dollar, and Black Lining. Repeat violators often enter horses under different names, different owners, or different trainers and are rarely caught. The Mitchells’ violations included soring and shoe pads.
Mitchell was named as the breeder of a world champion Tennessee Walker, a horse named Gen’s Burning Rage. It is strongly alleged Gen was in a “rage” after being repeatedly “burned” by soring techniques. It is well-known that Mitchell was apparently so consumed by world champion Walkers he would do anything for another champion. Almost every mare confiscated last Saturday was believed to be pregnant, some in late stages. It hasn’t been determined how much damage was done to the unborn colts.
We know this: In 2009, Mitchell went bankrupt, according to court records, and the VEA’s Jamie Clifton remembers going to the same Mitchell Farm six years ago to rescue animals that had been abused. At the time Mitchell pleaded guilty and there was little punishment. He was ticketed for soring less than a year later but the penalty was virtually nothing. This time, he could well go to jail on any of the 55 counts.
The sadists who encourage the torture are now known as ‘Lickers’ and while Shelbyville spin-masters say the USDA inspections are too severe, the number of horses cited at the National Celebration, held in August, were twice as many on 2014 as in 2013.
Soring is now so prevalent it has made the Tennessee Walking Horse the scourge of the horse industry. Public disdain, now nationwide, is growing for the Shelbyville-based sadists who cling to the archaic 80-year-old training methods that are now outlawed in Tennessee. Horse show attendance is plunging and a growing number of shows are prohibiting “Big Lick” freaks from entering the ring.
Ironically, Mitchell’s farm is less than 20 miles from Columbia, Tn., where a very controversial horse show is scheduled for next weekend. Over 4,300 people have already signed a petition on the Change.org website against the Gulf Coast Charity Celebration horse show, urging people to boycott it and to speak out against animal cruelty.
Mind you, the west Tennessee town is almost 400 miles from the Gulf of Mexico but after a sickened public forced the Florida show out of the state, Maury County officials accepted it before realizing public perception of the walking horse industry has never been as bad.
One reason is Larry Joe Wheelon, who was allegedly soring animals in a blatant fashion over two years ago when 19 horses that allegedly had been badly tortured were confiscated. Wheelon, who was brazenly “ticketed” again in 2014 for attempting to enter a sored horse in a Dandridge show, is expected to finally go to trial in late spring after his lawyers have made a mockery of due process in Blount County. Wheelon and two stable hands face 18 counts of aggravated cruelty to livestock.
Of those charges, 13 are felony charges and five are misdemeanors. Wheelon, a member of the Walking Horse Trainers Association’s ethics committee, also has a colorful history of past Horse Protection Act violations and could become the first trainer to serve a jail sentence for abusing a horse.
Because of Wheelon’s pending charges, it is strongly believed in the ‘sound horse’ community that the National Walking Horse Trainer’s Horse Show was moved away from Tennessee this spring to Decatur, Ala., because horse abuse and soring are not felonies in Alabama. (A ‘sound horse’ is a flat-shod horse that is not sored or abused.
The Humane Society of the United States has pledged $300 to help each horse that was confiscated on Mitchell’s farm this weekend and, while over $16,000 is quite a gift, the VEA’s Clifton said the money “won’t go far with the medical needs and food bills.” Those wishing to donate toward the recovery of the badly-abused horses should send a tax-deductible check to Volunteer Equine Advocates, Post Office Box 112, Gallatin, TN 37066.