Horse sorers drop lawsuit against Blount County animal welfare group

Image from 2015 HSUS Horse Soring Investigation.
Image from 2015 HSUS Horse Soring Investigation.

BLOUNT COUNTY, TENNESSEE (Horse Soring) — You can’t make this stuff up. Who could believe it?

The Daily Times reports:

Caslon Quote Left Black Several horse owners suing a nonprofit Blount County animal welfare group over the seizure of their horses from Larry Wheelon Stables in 2013 have decided to drop their lawsuit.

Maryville attorney Rob White filed the $2.1 million lawsuit against the Blount County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BCSPCA) on April 25, 2014 — exactly a year after the organization seized 19 horses from a Maryville barn as part of an investigation into allegations of illegal soring practices.

The horses were returned to their owners in late 2013 after a Blount County judge threw out the original case against Wheelon and several stable workers. They were later indicted by a Blount County grand jury, but the cases were dismissed yet again.

Larry Joe Wheelon. Photo: The Daily Times.
Larry Joe Wheelon. Photo: The Daily Times.

One was thrown out due to insufficient evidence, one because the defendant died in a car crash and the two remaining cases — including the case against Wheelon — were tossed by a Blount County judge who found constitutional rights violations in the investigation.

White said his clients moved to dismiss the BCSPCA lawsuit without prejudice, meaning they have the option to refile the litigation within a year’s time.

“We’re basically wanting to back off right now and assess where we’re at and decide what action we want to take, if any,” White told The Daily Times on Wednesday.

One of the seven horse owners, Kenneth Smith, dropped his case against the BCSPCA in December. White filed a notice of voluntary dismissal July 6 on behalf of the six remaining plaintiffs, Rebecca and William Andrews, Rodney Koger, Bobbie Jo Koger, Dwight Brooks and Joe Barnes.

Wheelon and Rodney Koger were arrested earlier this year in Fentress County on numerous animal cruelty charges. The two were indicted by a Fentress County grand jury in June on 26 counts each of animal cruelty.

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This is horse soring.

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Go here for more on Larry Wheelon »

Horse Soring

Soring is the use of chemicals, pressure or devices to cause pain to the front feet and legs of horses when they touch the ground. This results in the horses picking up their front feet higher and faster than they would do naturally. It is an abusive and prohibited practice, illegal in the U.S. under the Horse Protection Act of 1970 (HPA). It is closely associated with a unique high-stepping action of the front legs called “big lick” movement in show ring Tennessee Walking Horses.

Under normal circumstances, “big lick” action is normally created by horseshoes that have added pads and weight (sometimes called “stacks”), usually combined with additional weighted chains or rollers placed around the pasterns to create dramatic, high-stepping flashy action of the horse’s front legs, desired in the horse show ring.

Both criminal and civil penalties can be assessed against individuals who engage in soring.

Roy Exum: Our sored Walkers weep

Cross-posted from The Chattanoogan »

ROY EXUM. Source image.
ROY EXUM. Source image.

I believe the United States Constitution is our most precious document. I also believe in order for us to live in the way that so many who have died for our country dreamed we would someday, we must cherish the Constitution, uphold it, and glory in it.

That established, the Constitution just broke my heart.

Tammy Harrington, a circuit court judge in Blount County, has just ruled Larry Joe Wheelon’s rights under the Fourth Amendment were violated by a search warrant in an April 2013 raid on his barn.

On that day 19 horses were seized, some so badly abused by caustic chemicals the animals could hardly walk. The evidence was overwhelming but Judge Harrington’s ruling on Friday means the 70-year-old Wheelon will soon walk as a free man rather than serve any punishment for very obvious soring practices he uses to make Tennessee Walking Horse dance a sickening step called the “Big Lick”.

Forget that the repeated delays in the judicial process of the Wheelon trial have cast a curious cloud over the Blount County Courthouse. Never mind that last summer, while awaiting trial, Wheelon was ticketed once again by USDA inspectors for violating the federal Horse Protection Act as he has done so many times in his checkered past. What matters is that the Constitution is the supreme law of the United States and must be followed to the letter.

While “sound horse” disciples across America are wincing over Judge Harrington’s decision, and animal advocates see the Wheelon case as a mockery of true justice, the fact that horse soring is so rampant in Tennessee leads to the belief it is just a matter of time before dedicated law enforcement officers nab the next closed-door barn monster.

Larry Joe Wheelon. Photo: The Daily Times.
Larry Joe Wheelon. Photo: The Daily Times.

Judge Harrington, who knows far more about our laws than I do, ruled Friday that some “undercover” visits by a federal agent before the warrant was issued violated Wheelon’s rights and said there were also some credibility issues with an affidavit that supported the search warrant. “It is never an easy decision,” the judge told the court, “and I understand the issues may be politically charged. However, that never takes the place of the Constitution.”

I believe Judge Harrington misspoke when she talked of “issues that may be politically charged.” Politics has little to do with animal abuse. A trainer either abuses a horse or does not. It could be she was referring to Blount County, where the courthouse fronts Lamar Alexander Parkway.

Alexander, a U.S. Senator who is leading opposition to the “Prevent All Soring Tactics” bills now coursing through the Senate and House with a watered-down bill, is a known supporter of the “Big Lickers,” a shady group out of Shelbyville intent on preserving the dirty side of the horse industry.

The better truth is the “Big Lick” is killing the Tennessee Walking Horse, its gentle reputation and its noble heritage. Public perception of the gross pads, the tight chains on horses’ hooves and barbaric practices to “pain” a horse so it will lift its agonized front legs higher in an unnatural gait, is scathing. While “sound” horse shows are thriving, some venues are banning Big Lick horses.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is in the process of elevating animal abuse to a Level One crime, placing it as a top priority with crimes like murder, extortion, and financial fraud. The FBI believes anyone who will hurt an animal may morph into the next Jeffery Dahmer and, by next February, indicates it will actively pursue those who have gained world-wide notoriety for soring horses.

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Walking Horse owners sue Blount County SPCA for $2.1M

Tennessee Walking Horse rescued from accused horse sorer Larry Wheelon, Blount County, Tennessee. Image: Kathy Milani/HSUS.
Rescue worker washes down a leg of a Tennessee Walking Horse taken from accused horse sorer Larry Wheelon, Blount County, Tennessee. Image: Kathy Milani/HSUS.


(WBIR) — Seven horse owners are suing the Blount County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BCSPCA) for $2.1 million.

They claim their horses missed an entire show season in which the animals would have been able to win prize money.

The lawsuit stems from an April 25, 2013 raid on Larry Wheelon Stables. On that date, the BCSPCA seized 19 horses from the Blount County facility over accusations that trainers used soring on the animals, a practice in which a trainer intentionally inflicts pain on a horse to enhance its high-stepping gait.

According to the lawsuit, the owners claim their horses were not returned to them them until November 2013 and at that time “it was apparent that they had been granted substandard care and were in poor condition than when they were seized on April 25, 2013”. The horse owners also stated “deprivation of their personal property led to said horses never being about to return to their previous show condition or to never be able to be shown again or to have their value substantially depreciated due to the deprivation of their personal property”. The horse owners are accusing the BCSPCA of “intentional, malicious, and reckless” actions.

Gino Bachman, president and senior cruelty investigator for the BCSPCA, said, “I can’t say much about it except the fact that we as an agency, the SPCA, conducted ourselves within the letter of the law by doing what the law dictates us to do and that was to seize evidence, In this case it was the horses.”

The horse owners also claim the horses were taken to an unknown location and the BCSPCA did not tell the owners where the horses had been taken.

Bachman said, “The owners were contacted within 72 hours of the seizure of the animals. My wife personally contacted every one of those owners by telephone. She did not notify them of where the animals were kept and that was because they were evidence and we didn’t want the evidence to be tampered with.”


1. Return of horses seized in Larry Wheelon stable raid delayed by dispute

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

3. Hearing reset for Blount County trainer in horse soring case

4. Nineteen sored horses seized; trainer charged with felony animal cruelty

Return of horses seized in Larry Wheelon stable raid delayed by dispute


The handler for Horse Haven of Tennessee leads a confiscated horse from Larry Wheelon Stables during an April 25 raid on the stable. Photo by Tom Sherlin, the Daily Times.
The handler for Horse Haven of Tennessee leads a confiscated horse from Larry Wheelon Stables during an April 25 raid on the stable.

Iva Butler, reporting for The Daily Times reports:

A judge ordered 19 Tennessee Walking Horses seized April 25 at Larry Wheelon Stables to be returned to their owners at Wheelon’s business, 2743 Tuckaleechee Pike, Maryville.

But since Wheelon no longer operates out of that barn, the question is where they can legally be returned. The owner of the barn “assured me in no uncertain terms that neither Wheelon or anyone else (associated with the horses) would be allowed on the property,” said Kellie Bachman, animal cruelty investigator for Blount County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BCSPCA). “On June 10 she evicted him (Wheelon) and he is not to come on her property.”

BCSPCA confiscated the horses, and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has been footing the bill for their care. HSUS officials are the only ones privy to the location.

They were first taken to a barn in Crossville, but owners learned of their whereabouts and the animals were moved to another secret location.

BCSPCA has the legal power to confiscate such animals and Bachman is the custodian of the horses.

Wheelon and Joe Heffington, an attorney from Shelbyville representing the owners, are calling Bachman demanding their return.

Bachman said Wheelon and Heffington have been threatening her and the owner of the barn with tactics that are “underhanded and not ethical.”

“Heffington threatened to charge me with contempt of court,” Bachman said. “This attorney needs to be talking to the HSUS. All I can do is release custody. I don’t know where these horses are.”

Bachman said the HSUS has tractor-trailers that are climate-controlled and have handlers to transport the horses, instead of relying on small horse trailers.

She told Heffington there was no place for the tractor-trailers to turn around, even if they were allowed on the property,

His response was “have the sheriff’s department shut down Tuckaleechee Pike and unload the horses in the roadway,” Bachman said, a solution she did not find viable. Read full report >>