Feds Pounce On Maryville Horse Trainer


The Chattanoongan, Friday, April 19, 2013 – by Roy Exum

Roy Exum

Roy Exum

Federal agents, accompanied by Blount County animal control officers, raided the barn of walking horse trainer Larry Wheelon near Maryville, Tn., on Thursday morning and sources said they were  “shocked” to find evidence of illegal soring and visible abuse among the 28 horses at the farm located on Tuckaleechee Pike.

Sources said the forelegs of most of the horses were wrapped after caustic substances had been applied to the animals and a paste thought to be a mixture including cinnamon and kerosene was being utilized to achieve the so-called “Big Lick,” an unnatural gait that wins blue ribbons in Shelbyville.

According to one source, several horses were “in agony” as veterinarians palpated the animals’ irritated front legs.

Wheelon told reporters from television station WBIR (Channel 10 News in Knoxville) that the agents didn’t find anything after serving a search warrant at approximately 7 a.m., but a Blount County animal control officer was quoted by the TV station as saying, “I think we have very different ideas about what abuse is.” Agents spent nine hours at Wheelon’s barn on Thursday in order to inspect each animal.

Because Wheelon did not have written proof the animals had been inspected for Coggins Disease (equine infectious anemia), 27 of the horses were later placed under quarantine by state health officials and cannot be transported. On Friday, federal attorneys were pursuing whether a protective order and/or similar legal instruments should also be employed. The names of the owners of the horses have not been released.

Since the Thursday raid, neither the USDA nor county animal control officials will make any comment “due to an ongoing investigation” but outside sources revealed the USDA officers included licensed veterinarians who were video-taped as they removed the wrapping from the horses’ legs, discovered alleged caustic agents, palpated tender areas and took sterile swabs.

It is believed it will take approximately two weeks for the labs to properly analyze the swabs. If the lab tests, and other evidence taken, result in an arrest warrant, Wheelon and others involved could be charged by federal and state agencies. Officers of the Blount County Sheriff’s Department also participated in the raid to provide security. Wheelon was not allowed on the property while the search warrant was in place.

It is being reported that approximately 26 of the 28 horses had wrapping on their forelegs and, under a Tennessee law that went into effect last July, each count that is proven valid is now a felony, punishable by not less than one but no more than five years in prison. Under federal law, horse abuse is still a misdemeanor, although there is legislation pending that would make it a more serious crime.

Wheelon, who is an active director of the Tennessee Walking Horse Trainer’s Association, has been suspended by the USDA at least 15 different times for violations of the Horse Protection Act, dating from 1993 through 2012. Additionally, he was fined $1,550 in 1981 by the USDA and court records reveal that in 1978 he was charged with soring a horse at a North Carolina show. A person known as “Linda Wheelon” was also suspended in 2006, according to USDA archives.

Wheelon is a member of the Ethics Committee for the Walking Horse Trainer’s Association and sits on its building committee. He is a member of the East Tennessee Walking Horse Association and is a AAA-rated horse show judge with the Shelbyville-based S.H.O.W. organization, the largest of the USDA’s registered horse groups. S.H.O.W. is an abbreviation meaning “Sound Horses. Honest Judging. Objective Inspections. Winning Fairly.”

The agents raided his barn after receiving a tip, it is believed.

Ironically, on Wednesday of this week the Tennessee Legislature voted to approve a law that requires a“whistleblower” to report animal abuse to law authorities within a 48-hour time period or be charged with a misdemeanor. It is now alleged that if the “AgGag”law were in effect (it is awaiting the governor’s signature) the tipster would be the criminal and Wheelon – who is indeed innocent until proven guilty –would skip any state charges due to the bill’s carefully-crafted limitations.

The USDA recently released an 11-page report of foreign substance results that were taken at random at horse shows in 2012. According to the Department of Agriculture, of 24 shows that were tested by licensed officials, 309 out of 478 walking horses tested positive for banned substances.

Each trainer was issued a “ticket” by the USDA. The trainer is suspended from showing horses but by assigning another trainer, changing the horse’s name and using another “owner,” the horse can stay in the competition.


AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
  • SOME PEOPLE NEVER LEARN. I DON’T GET IT–same as with Arabians,,, it isn’t even pretty–they use rubber bands, heavy shoes, and I find it ugly.

    April 20, 2013
  • Lawrence Stevens

    The owners should also be charged__ They are the ones keeping this guy in business!

    April 20, 2013
  • Susan Durrenberger

    Bad name for showpeople, especially walking horse trainers and riders. To torture a horse to win a ribbon shows how shallow the show circuit is. It’s all about the rider and the ribbon. To have dealt with this slimy trainer who had been charged in the past is inexcusable. Why does he get away with this? I hope this time, he will go to prison where he belongs. It’s time the walking horse competition is banned from ALL shows.

    April 20, 2013
  • Debbie Tracy

    I am so thankful, for who ever reported this and glad they all went in there to find out the truth, NOW you see that AGGAG law that some states now have is so not right, I mean if you have nothing to hide why would you care if anyone came in and took pictures honest to god, I sure hope TENN does not pass this law?? But the many with money and power will push it!! Thankful for the poor horses and the owners of these horses knowing this is going on should be punished somehow, gosh makes me so angry they continue with this terrible abuse against these innocent sweet animals!

    April 20, 2013
  • I am so glad to see that these animal abusers are getting caught and hopefully put to justice and JAIL TIME.where are the owners? don”t they ever check in on the horses or are they so greeding for the money these horses bring in that they don’t give a shit about the animals!!!!!!!

    April 20, 2013
  • jamie

    They were SHOCKED. Frankly I’m shocked that they were so stupid as to be shocked!

    April 20, 2013
  • Robynne Catheron

    Dear Lord, please guide the hand and heart of the governor to NOT approve the Ag-Gag bill. Those poor horses, still suffering. How can judges not award him the maximum punishment allowable by law? They just have to, period. O’Connell slimed his way out of it, let’s hope this guy isn’t so lucky. His resume makes me sick.

    April 20, 2013
  • Nancy B

    This is so horrible! Does anyone know what has become of the tortured horses from the famous video taken at that SOBs ranch that was featured in the undercover video a while back? I’ve wondered about them and can’t seem to find them online.

    It’s about time this atrocity is dealt with! Totally unbelievable this state would attempt to pass an Ag-Gag bill.

    April 20, 2013
  • sherriey

    look at that! corruption right at the very top!!!!!
    imagine that!
    why wasn’t he thrown off these “committees”???? corruption begins at the top!

    April 20, 2013
  • They sit around in their beautiful hats and clothing knowing these terrible acts are going on. What is wrong with these people?

    April 22, 2013
  • Pam

    This goes on because the public and those involved in Shelbyville continue to cheer on the ‘Big Lick’ and none of them give a sh** about the *constant* abuse these animals suffer. And it’s not just the soring. These horses are shut up in dark barns all day. They can’t be turned out, like normal horses, to graze or play in a paddock because they’ll rip soft tissue if they trip on those ridiculously built up shoes (often with nails aimed to make them even more sore in the sole of the hoof) Competitive Walking Horses are despised by the rest of the horse world because the trainers are too ignorant to train without inflicting horrific pain and the horses live a life of misery. Who would allow this to happen to their dog, much less a horse?? Shame on the entire industry.

    April 22, 2013
  • Debbie

    Tennessee Walking Horses have always received a bad rap for various reasons. I think the feds should spend equal time going after the quarter horse trainers, saddlebred trainers and the race horse trainers.

    April 22, 2013
    • joy

      ummmm, Debbie…..maybe missing the point here – TWH trainers are the ones with the “bad rep” and the “various reasons” are just what we’re talking about – come on now!

      April 25, 2013
  • Brittany

    What I don’t understand is, if the gait they call ‘the big lick’ is unnatural and clearly requires inhumane tactics to be achieved, why does is continue to be desirable? Why is it even allowed in the shows? If it’s well known that the horses who perform that gait have at some time been abused, you would think the organization would come together to outlaw it or at least stop promoting it….??

    April 22, 2013

    It’s ALL about money … the trainers, the owners, the people of Shelbyville who make their living off the shows, the government officials who cover it up, and MOST OF ALL ….. our elected politicans who ALL go by the ” Good Ole Boy ” politics !!!!!!!!! Everyone butters the next guys pockets, they don’t care anymore about the pain and suffering inflicted on those wonderful, beautiful animals, anymore than they care about the little man !!!!! Just so they ” EARN ” their fabulous wages, and lifestyles, jet setting on the tax payers money, have health insurance the rest of us dream of ” FOR LIFE “, getting their pictures taken with the govenor, who’s as bad as the rest of them !!!!!! If they wanted to do good at first, thr Good Ole Boy

    April 22, 2013
  • Sounds like it’s time to give him 1 year in jail for each count, perhaps he needs the time to think about what he is doing

    April 23, 2013
  • When the Tennessee Horse Industry puts forth their Big Lick horses as their best, this is what you see when you look at the horse in magazines and on videos, then people expect your back yard TWH to be the same. It is not fair to the breed at large. I saw a video recently introducing people to the breed. Guess who they were introduced to? Big Lick horses. What do you think they are going to want? Promotion is the culprit. It is the same in every breed.

    April 23, 2013
  • Goran Bockman

    What I can’t understand is WHY do people DO this soring??! It’s not difficult for an experienced trainer to get that exaggerated front leg action, without any artificial means.
    We see it all the time in Icelandics. The ‘trick’, well no trick really, it’s just basic dressage, is to teach the horse never to fight the bit, thus enabling one to push it against the bit, with butt and thighs.

    Gradually the horse will tread further and further under itself, thus raising its front more and more. When it’s muscled enough the high front action will come with no trouble at all.

    April 23, 2013