Tennessee Walking Horse trainer Larry Wheelon and three others have pleaded not guilty to animal cruelty charges for allegedly soring horses in Blount County, Tenn.
Soring is the deliberate injury to a horse’s feet and legs to achieve an exaggerated high-stepping gait. On the federal level, the Horse Protection Act forbids soring; the practice is also unlawful under Tennessee animal cruelty statutes.
Earlier this year, a visitor to Wheelon Stables complained about the condition of the horses there. On April 18, acting on a warrant, investigators from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), along with Blount County Society for the Prevention to Cruelty to Animals and Blount County Sheriff’s Department personnel, examined the barn and the horses inside. Authorities determined that the examined animals were apparently sore; the allegedly sore horses were removed to an undisclosed location for rehabilitative treatment.
Authorities later arrested Wheelon and charged him with felony animal cruelty. They later arrested Randall Stacy Gunter of Louisville, Tenn., and Brandon Lunsford of Walland, Tenn., for allegedly working with allegedly sore horses at Wheelon’s barn. Both were subsequently charged with animal cruelty. All pleaded not guilty.
In August, the felony charges against Wheelon were dropped after a judge ruled that USDA veterinary medical officer Bart Sutherland, DVM—who tested and palpated horses connected to the case—accidentally heard testimony while sitting in the courtroom for 30 minutes during the trial.
On Dec. 2, a Blount County Grand Jury indicted Wheelon, Lunsford, and Gunter on