Roy Exum: Notorious Horse Trainer Arrested

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The Chattanoogan, Roy Exum

image001Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s office has received thousands of telephone calls, hundreds of letters and is expecting a petition bearing over 6,000 names from those begging he veto a very controversial “AgGag” bill but the deciding blow may have just been delivered in Maryville on Thursday. State authorities have charged notorious horse trainer Larry Wheelon with one count of aggravated animal cruelty and confiscated at least 17 of 28 Tennessee Walking Horses that showed visible signs of alleged abuse and soring.

Wheelon’s barn had been raided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week and, while agents were said to be “shocked,”  yesterday’s action was the first step in a criminal prosecution by state officials, where horse abuse is now a felony and carries a one-to-five year jail term on each count.

Wheelon has been cited for violating the federal Horse Protection Act at least 15 times by the USDA between 1993 and 2012, but yesterday’s arrest was the first in Tennessee since horse abuse became a felony last July.

The Tennessee Legislature passed an “AgGag”  bill by a mere one vote the day before the USDA raided Wheelon’s barn last week and a source said that if the AgGag bill, as it is called, had been law then evidence collected in the last two weeks against Wheelon would be impermissible and the person, or persons, who tipped the USDA would be guilty of a misdemeanor under the highly-controversial bill.

Tennessee’s flawed Animal Abuse Bill has been so universally decried by animal protection groups that the Humane Society of the United States now has a $100,000 TV campaign to urge the governor’s veto. Not surprising, the Tennessee Walking Horse Association, considered the root of horse abuse in Tennessee for the past 50 years, and the Tennessee Farm Bureau are the only known organizations in favor of the act.

The horses were seized yesterday by the Blount County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals but the Humane Society and a group from House Haven were called in and asked to transport, care and feed the animals at an undisclosed farm outside of Blount County. Last week 26 of 28 horses were inspected by USDA veterinarians and some were said to be “in agony” after a paste containing such irritants as kerosene and cinnamon were found to be wrapped on the animals’ forelegs.

To compound the tragedy, as the horses were being moved yesterday, one horse was found to be in such pain that when something brushed the animal’s bloody foreleg in a barn walkway, the pain-crazed animal rushed the experienced equine handler, badly cutting her face and breaking her leg. The handler, who has been working with horses for years, was transported by ambulance to a local hospital.

The horse was quickly caught and sedated by veterinarians, who also began pain treatment for the animal. “The whole scene is absolutely horrible,” said one onlooker. “Nobody knows what these horses have been forced to endure.”

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AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
10 Comments
  • Marcia

    If he signs the bill into law despite all the opposition, then he must have gotten even more pressure from the groups causing the problem–deep pockets there?

    I’m surprised the USDA actually got to the scene and did something, but it was certainly the right time to discover the nightmare the horses were living in. Now we’ll have to see if the ag-gag law is passed and if the horses abusers get by with little or no punishment, which would not be unusual, although infuriating.

    April 26, 2013
  • Kathleen Conely

    The abusers of these horses seem to be policing themselves and making a practice of looking the other way. If this bill is signed into law than just think of the pain they will be infliction on these poor animals, especially with no consequences for their miss deeds. Put the horses first, not the show ring and stop rewarding the owners of these tortured horses a blood dripping blue ribbon. Please VETO the AgGag Bill .

    April 26, 2013
  • Debbie Tracy

    Oh my god I can’t even imagine HOW can anyone be so cruel just to much to bear the the owners of these horses allowing this to happen and he has been sited before 15 times god almighty it is about time he was stopped!!!! Congrat’s to everyone involved in helping these poor horses, hope that girl will be ok!!!
    HUGE victory getting one more person away from the horses he torture’s. HE should NEVER EVER be able to be near another horse….. horse!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 26, 2013
  • Mary Anne Gardner

    This is a blessing for the walking horse! These men just wanted nothing but to see how high they could make these horse step!!! There has to be a price paid and I can’t wait to hear, it will never take away the pain these horse have suffered but maybe it will save the horses coming up for shows. There should be someone at ever big or small show to check these horses before they ever go in the ring! KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!!!!

    April 26, 2013
  • Daryl

    but they know wthe horses are in pain, how can such people do this to animals and call them selves horse trainers? It makes me sick to know of such people. We all need to help these animals out of places like this and never let the ones who did this horrible action with the or any animal again.

    April 26, 2013
  • sherriey

    those poor horses! reading this has made me sick to my stomach. that guy needs the same treatment done to him. what a disgrace that whole state is to the horse world!

    April 26, 2013
  • Mary Johnson

    This has been going on for years. Why is it allowed to continue? Throw Wheelon to the curb or, better yet, burn his feet with chemicals and see how he likes it. Oh, and by the way, any judge who pins a horse who is exhibiting this unnatural gate is part of the problem.

    April 27, 2013
  • Debra Gordon

    Roy Exum could also be put in jail for writing this article? I mean, if the Ag-Gag Bill passes, Freedom of Speech is out the window. It seems to me that if these bills start to pass in the other states, we are all screwed. I don’t see how this will stand the test of legal scrutiny, once you get down to it. This is so wrong. This will be used all across the US as the gateway drug to let corporate entities get away with everything they damn well please. Animal abuse? We ain’t seen nothin’ yet. God help us all…

    April 27, 2013
  • Debra Gordon

    Yeah, why is it that certain exaggerated gaits are seen as ‘pretty’ and the standard to shoot for in a breed, even though it has been proven time and again, that there are notorious trainers who will do anything to get that (ugly) gait. I hope there is a movement afoot to show the naturally beautiful gait of all the different breeds, over this monstrosity of over-stepping. It is so sad.

    April 27, 2013
  • Daryl

    When I lived in Pa. years a go, I was boarding at a walking horse barn, I my self had a half walker & half App. He was a great gelding to ride and have for 30 years, but the horses at the barn were in for the big shoes and some had teh hugh blocks on the feet to make them pick up the feet high, to go on a trail ride you had to take the block shoes off and put regular shoes on, and the horses were un sure of them selves because of the other shoes being on for so long, so a show horses was really a show horse, not used much for any thing else, the barn and horses owners were very kind and decent to the animals, but I did not like what was done by the trainers to these animals. I road with a loose rein and they were riding with a tight rein and head bent so tucked in, I did not know how the horse enjoyed the outing. My horses loved to go out every day for a trail ride and they listened to me, the others were fighting to hold them back from a run, not so nice ride for them.

    April 28, 2013