Charges dropped against Tenn. horse sorer Wheelon; case may go to Grand Jury

Remember Larry Wheelon? He is the Tennessee Walking horse trainer whose barn in Blount County, Tennessee, was raided and a large number of his horses taken away because of evidence of “soring“. Wheelon was later charged with felony animal cruelty. A hearing was set initially for May 17th.

Tennessee Walking Horse rescued from accused horse sorer Larry Wheelon, Blount County, Tennessee. Image: Kathy Milani/HSUS.
Rescuer washes down the legs of Tennessee Walking Horse to ease the pain of burning chemicals applied by accused horse sorer Larry Wheelon, Blount County, Tennessee. Image: Kathy Milani/HSUS.

Roy Exum reports:

Wheelon, a 68-year-old trainer who has been suspended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at least 15 times since 1993, was charged with one count of aggravated animal cruelty in Blount County on Thursday and, later in the day, 19 of 27 horses were confiscated by state animal control officers and taken to several undisclosed locations.

All of the horses that were confiscated were said to have exhibited visible signs of soring, where irritants are used to “steward” the noble animals to lift their front legs in an unnatural gait called the “Big Lick.” Some of the horses had painful globs of hardened epoxy under their front hooves, which is akin to walking with a big rock in one’s shoe, and others had wrappings on their legs where the burning chemicals would “cook.”

“The worst symptom was seen in the animal’s eyes. You could tell they were in great pain. The eyes were dull instead of glossy. The mental state of the animals was obviously impaired,” said one equine expert, a fact that was soon proven when one horse literally ran over a veteran handler in a tragic barn accident Thursday afternoon.

Freed on a $5,000 bond after his April 25 arrest, Blount County General Sessions Court Judge Robert Headrick reset the date of Wheelon’s hearing from May 17 to June 26 to give the trainer time to consult with his newly hired attorney.

After more delays, Wheelon’s day in Court finally arrived on August 15. And what a day it was.

Judge Headrick, after disallowing the testimony of a key prosecution witness, dimissed the case against Wheelon.

The Blount County Daily Times reports:

The essential witness was U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinary medical officer Dr. Bart Sutherland, of Washington, D.C., who performed the testing and palpitated the horses for soreness on the day of the raid.

He was not allowed to testify because he accidentally sat in the courtroom for 30 minutes during testimony.

Quotes from owners of the tortured horses clearly points to why they would have a horse abuser like Wheelon as their trainer. Witness these shocking statements made to the Daily Times:

The owners of some of the 19 horses seized in the raid were present for the preliminary hearing. They were jubilant with the verdict and were anxious for their horses to be returned.

“This is great for the Walking Horse industry,” said one owner, Dwight Brooks, of Rogersville.

“Justice was served,” said Eugene Condry, a former Maryville High School teacher. “This reminds me of Nazi Germany … the way these horses were seized.”

“It’s good to see the 4th and 5th amendments to [the] Constitution being upheld and due process of law being achieved,” added Tom Garren, a pharmacist for 35 years from Monroe County.

Farrell Hughes said he has known Wheelon for 46 years and had two horses seized in the raid. “I’d love to get the horses back just like they were,” he said.

As horrible as this dismissal looks, it appears trouble may not be over for serial horse sorer Wheelon.

A breaking news report filed today by WBIR, Maryville states:

More legal action could be brewing against the man at the center of a high-profile horse abuse case.

The Blount County District Attorney Mike Flynn said he’s considering whether to take the Larry Wheelon case before a grand jury.

Wheelon insisted Tuesday he did nothing wrong, days after charges were dismissed in a Blount County court. Last week, the case was dismissed due to a technicality in general court. Defense attorney, Rob White, said the judge ruled there was not enough evidence for the case to continue.

If the DA decides to take the case before a grand jury, then Wheelon’s case would go to the circuit court.

In the meantime, let’s take a quick look at a couple of Wheelon’s credentials. Exum remarks:

Soring, or torturing horses, is rampant in the “Big Lick” segment of the Walking Horse industry and Wheelon, a member of the Walking Horse Trainer’s Association which is rife with those who have been ticketed for years by USDA inspectors, is widely known as a “Dirty Licker, this in spite of the fact he serves on the group’s ethics committee.

Wheelon is also a AAA-rated judge with the Shelbyville-based S.H.O.W., which stands for “Sound horses. Honest Judging. Objective inspections. Winning Fairly.”

The day the Tennessee Walkers were confiscated by federal agents from Wheelon’s barn, veterinarians and assistants worked into the night removing what is believed to be a mixture of kerosene and cinnamon from the animals. Officials said mustard oil may have also been used.

9 thoughts on “Charges dropped against Tenn. horse sorer Wheelon; case may go to Grand Jury”

  1. This was an invented excuse used by the judge to dismiss the charges. I am confident that there will be justice for the horses and that there will be a day in their future when they can live pain free, munching grass in a pasture somewhere, being loved and cherished, and living a life of freedom and soundness that they so richly deserve. I believe that day will come for all Tennessee Walking Horses. The pressure is on: the Dirty Lick business is on its way out. It will soon be cast on the ash heap of history. We have to make sure we continue to apply pressure until that day comes.


  2. When video, photos, and eye witnesses isnt enough , there is something very wrong going on here !!!!!! they think because the Horses cannot speak for themselves that anything they want goes, but what they didnt count on is US , we are there voices , and we have been monitoring all of them !!!!! There will be Justice for the Horses !!!!!!


  3. The judge is a friend of Wheelon, probably a drinking buddy of his. In the horse soring industry they all know each other and protect each others backs, this is one of the reasons its been so hard to eradicate this cruelty. If a grand jury is appointed it needs to be in another jurisdiction. This man needs to be taken down.


    1. I am hoping that the DA is not being intimidated by these evil thinkers, and goes ahead with the Grand Jury.

      My question is why would a federal agent not know he could not be present during testimony. It sounds like he was called early and once in, could then not leave. Of course I am guessing. But I can’t imagine prosecution making a mistake like that. Perhaps the foreman was asked by the Judge to call him in. It sounds very, very odd to me, the whole situation.


  4. With all the evidence against him makes my blood boil such a terrible tragedy for those horses that suffered for so long. Using the excuse the “key” prosecution witness sat in on 30 minutes earlier and heard testimony the judge dismissed Wheelon because there wasn’t enough evidence give the horses a break! He made sure of that! What kind of Judge is he? This is so appalling letting Wheelson off the hook and it sounds very suspicious to me. Doesn’t the courts know who there at the time of the trial? And what a terrible mistake on the part of the key witness wasn’t he warned prior to court trial? I demand a retrial! Grand Jury is a absolute must! Praying for the horses they get justice.


  5. Yes! Take Wheelon before a grand jury. The deck was stacked against him & he was let go free! I believe Wheelon’s severe cruelty was filmed too. The agony of the horses is just about too much to watch. But we are their voice. As the above states, the horses could only speak with their eyes & their cries. I presume this (crooked) judge has other interests besides justice. Thank you.


  6. OMG. unbelievable, NOT enough evidence of course the Vet couldn’t be a witness, Crazy!!!! And a teacher defending this man is even scarier….. I hope they will take it to the Grand Jury this man is obviously not owning up to anything, figures…………..


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