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Blount horse trainer accused of 'soring' Tennessee walking horses

10:16 PM, Apr 25, 2013   |    comments
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A Blount County horse trainer is charged with felony animal cruelty, a week after agents served a search warrant at his property.  Nineteen horses were seized.

Larry Wheelon is accused of "soring," which animal welfare officials say is the application of caustic chemicals and painful devices to the hooves and legs of Tennessee Walking horses to produce the artificial high-stepping "Big-Lick" gait.

"Put things underneath their shoes. It's like walking on a pebble and then having to stand," explained Gino Bachman with the Blount County SPCA.

10News spoke with Wheelon last week when authorities began to investigate the barn. He said the horses were fine -- but not everyone agreed with that statement.

"Based on the findings of the veterinarian we brought out here last week, and the chemicals we found in the barn, his opinion is obviously different than ours," said Bachman.

The Humane Society of the United States assisted the Blount County Sheriff's Office, Blount County SPCA and Horse Haven of Tennessee with the seizure of the horses and investigation.

Authorities said they discovered horses "visibly in pain and several barely able to stand" on Wheelon's property.

The Humane Society says Wheelon is an active director of the Tennessee Walking Horse Trainer's Association and sits on its ethics committee.  They added Wheelon has been cited by inspectors at least 15 times for violations of the federal Horse Protection Act between 1993 and 2012.

Neighbor Rocky Harris said he has seen problems with horses on the property in the past.

"My wife heard about (the seizure), came out and told me while I was mowing. And we weren't surprised, because she's always wanting me to stop and look at those horses. And I try and stay out of other people's business," Harris said.

Wheelon was taken to the Blount County Justice Center Thursday afternoon on a $5,000 bond on the one count of abuse.

This is the second time in two years that a Tennessee walking horse trainer has faced animal cruelty charges in Tennessee.

Previous story

Officials are investigating a case of possible horse abuse in Blount County.

Around 7:00 am on Thursday, agents with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Blount County Sheriff's Department, and the Blount County Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals showed up to serve a search warrant at the property of horse trainer Larry Wheelon on Tuckaleechee Pike near Maryville.

Officials have released no information about what they were looking for, but Wheelon told 10News they were inspecting the property after an abuse complaint, and that they didn't find anything.  Wheelon was not allowed on the property during the search, which wrapped up around 4:00 pm.

A Blount County Animal Control Officer wouldn't elaborate on what happened, but says, "I think we have very different ideas about what abuse is."

Wheelon says he trained two dozen show horses on the property.

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