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Maryville Horse Trainer’s Horses Seized in Soring Investigation

The HSUS and Blount County SPCA help authorities remove horses of Tenn. walking horse show trainer, judge


Authorities seized 19 horses who may have been subjected to the cruel practice of “soring” from a Maryville, Tenn., barn and transported them to safety. 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.

The barn was used by Larry Wheelon, who has been charged with one count of felony animal cruelty on suspicions of soring—the application of caustic chemicals and painful devices to the hooves and legs of horses to produce the artificial high-stepping “Big-Lick” gait that gains unfair competitive advantage at horse shows. Additional charges are possible pending the outcome of the investigation.

Act now: Support an end to soring »

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 an AAA-rated judge with Shelbyville, Tenn.-based S.H.O.W, which is the largest of the USDA-certified horse industry organizations that self-police competitions.

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.

Feeling sore about soring?

Bonus: See a slideshow of images from this rescue.

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 as documented in an HSUS undercover investigation in 2011. McConnell already has a federal felony conviction stemming from the same investigation and was sentenced to three years of probation and a $75,000 fine.

The HSUS encourages Congress to pass the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act of 2013, H.R. 1518, which strengthens the Horse Protection Act by ending industry self-policing, banning the use of certain devices associated with soring and strengthening penalties.

The HSUS also urges Gov. Bill Haslam to veto Tennessee’s controversial anti-whistleblower, or “ag-gag,” bill, S.B. 1248, which would make it a crime for whistleblowers and journalists to document and expose chronic animal abuse at industrial agriculture facilities and horse stables.

**Photos and video b-roll will be available by request.

Media Contact: Stephanie Twining, 240-751-3943, stwining@humanesociety.org

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