published Thursday, December 5th, 2013

Tennessee walking horse trainer, judge indicted

A Tennessee walking horse trainer who has served as a show judge and on an industry group's ethics committee was indicted Monday on animal cruelty charges related to a soring case earlier this year.

Larry Joe Wheelon, a Maryville, Tenn., trainer, along with Randall Stacy Gunter, Brandon Lunsford and Blake T. Primm, are accused of applying acid to walking horses "in a depraved and sadistic manner" for "competition in horse shows," the indictment reads.

The only horse specifically named in the indictment that includes Primm is Jose's Happy Feet/Laura Kate.

A second indictment with the three other defendants includes Los Lobos, Country Bumpkin, Fred/Coach's Twisted Play, Lady Antebellum, Ferrell Hugh's Final Score/The Stimulus, Night Shade/Black Night by Choice, In My Pocket, She's Just Sweepin'/She's a Sweeper, Sweepover, Shades of Cash/Greg, Sweepstakes Pzazz (sic), Sweepstakes Mare/Sweep Sister, Sweeping Up the Cash, Coach Filly and Neyland.

Similar charges were filed against Wheelon and the others in the spring, but were dismissed after a prosecutor's misstep during an August probable cause hearing.

Wheelon was at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration days later and said that he was innocent of the charges all along and was suffering financially because the horses he had been training were seized as part of the case.

He didn't immediately return a voicemail left Wednesday.

It was cathartic to see charges refiled against Wheelon after having to return 19 sored horses to him after the August hearing, said Kellie Bachman of the Blount County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Her group aided in the case.

"To know the truth and the circumstances and manhours and time and blood, sweat and tears we put into it, especially having to return the horses, it wasn't just upsetting, it was heartbreaking," Bachman said.

She said a search warrant executed in April revealed moaning horses that couldn't stand.

Wheelon formerly sat on the ethics committee of the Walking Horse Trainers Association and was a judge for Shelbyville-based SHOW, a horse inspection and judging group.

Unscrupulous trainers burn walking horses' pasterns to induce the breed's naturally longer, higher gait. The process is called soring.

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