Horse trainer speaks out after animal cruelty charge dropped

Blount Co. horse trainer speaks out after animal cruelty charge dropped

Posted:
"It's been tough. I wouldn't wish this on anybody," said horse trainer Larry Wheelon. "It's been tough. I wouldn't wish this on anybody," said horse trainer Larry Wheelon.
Wheelon's training facility on Tuckaleechee Pike in Maryville was raided on April 25 after he was accused of soring. Wheelon's training facility on Tuckaleechee Pike in Maryville was raided on April 25 after he was accused of soring.

By LAURA HALM
6 News Reporter

MARYVILLE (WATE) - A Blount County horse trainer is speaking out after animal cruelty charges against him were dropped last week. Larry Wheelon's training facility on Tuckaleechee Pike in Maryville was raided on April 25.

Wheelon was accused of soring, which is a practice of using chemicals or painful devices on a horse's leg to produce the high-stepping gait made famous by the Tennessee Walking Horses.

The stables at Wheelon's facility have empty and locked since investigators seized horses and collected evidence four months ago, based on allegations of animal abuse.

"It's been tough. I wouldn't wish this on anybody," said Wheelon.

Since the seizure, Wheelon has been battling the accusation in the courtroom. A judge dismissed the charge of animal cruelty last week, saying there was no probable cause to continue the case. Wheelon says the news was a big relief.

Wheelon has been training Tennessee Walking Horses since 1963 and says he did not hurt these animals.

"We were working our horses under the guidelines of the industry," he said.

Investigators used swabs to see if there were any chemicals used in training.

When asked if he used chemicals, Wheelon replied, "We were not using caustic chemicals and they didn't find any caustic chemicals on my horses."

He says if there had been any issues the owners would have spoken up while visiting the stables to check on their animals.

"As much as they love these horses, care for them, and the money they've got in these horses if I was abusing that horse it would be gone," added Wheelon.

A total of 19 horses were seized during the investigation and taken to Texas.

"I've told all my owners I was sorry this was happening, and I hate what they're going through. I've got some customers that have been with me since 1965," said Wheelon.

While he's no longer facing charges, Wheelon admits his name and reputation have been tarnished. He hasn't decided what his next step will be.

"We've worked hard. My wife, my family, they've supported me and mixed emotions now on what if we'll go forward or what we'll do," he said.

Wheelon formerly sat on the Ethics Committee for the Tennessee Walking Horse Trainer's Association. He stepped down from his position when the investigation began.

Now that the charge has been dropped, Wheelon says he was asked by the Trainer's Association about accepting re-instatement. He says that he'll need time to consider an answer.

As for the 19 horses seized, we checked and arrangements are still being made to ship them back to Maryville. Those horses will be going back to their individual owners.

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