The shattered Tennessee Walking Horse industry will once again fall under the glower of the world’s horse advocates today when a known “Big Lick” trainer, Larry Joe Wheelon, is scheduled to be arraigned on one charge of aggravated animal cruelty in a Maryville, Tenn., courtroom. Two accomplices, Randall Stacy Gunter of Louisville, and Brandon Lunsford of Walland, have also been charged and, with evidence that is said to be “overwhelming,” the case will likely go to the Grand Jury.
State officials raided Wheelon’s barn in April and found 19 animals that had been sadistically sored and burned with caustic substances to achieve the “Big Lick,” an unnatural high step that in the past year has caused Tennessee to become the epicenter of horse abuse in the world. If a True Bill is returned by the Grand Jury, Wheelon and his barn workers will be charged with an additional 18 other counts, each a felony carrying one to five years in state prison if the men are convicted.
Meanwhile, efforts are underway to learn who actually owns the injured horses that were in the trainer’s care because it is believed the owners could also be charged under Tennessee law if the owners had approved such horrendous treatment that some of the horses received. Several horses had been abused so badly, according to official present at the raid, they could hardly walk or stand.
Wheelon has vigorously denied the charges, but after high-profile trainer Jackie McConnell was proven to be a sadistic felon by federal prosecutors last summer, evoking the ire of horsemen worldwide, Wheelon’s alleged animal abuse lends heavily to the belief soring and contemptuous violations of the federal Horse Protection Act are still rampant in the disreputable “Big Lick” portion of the horse-show industry.
Curiously, a defiant stance has been embraced by the Shelbyville-based “Big Lick” crowd and, with a virtual army of organizations intent on exposing the vile soring and heinous “stewarding” practices against the innocent animals, horse advocates are joining in an unprecedented effort to clean up the sickening image that has now defiled the majestic breed and made the “Big Lickers” the laughingstock of the animal world.
Several weeks ago, after the Executive Committee of the breed’s registry suggested to its board that there should be “dramatic changes” to “rid ourselves of this black cloud,” the board – somewhat aghast that then-president Tracy Boyd would admit it — quickly vetoed the committee’s request, that in itself a fact that enraged horse owners everywhere.