When the news broke two years ago about reported horrors allegedly witnessed in veteran walking horse trainer Larry Wheelon’s barn in Maryville, Tennessee, the hometown of Tennessee senior Senator Lamar Alexander, people were shocked. When a grand jury went on to indict Mr. Wheelon for numerous counts of aggravated animal abuse, everyone, including animal welfare advocates, typically referred to by the performance horse supporters as “you people” or “uninformed fanatics”, and the big lick fans that in private may say that Mr. Wheelon is one of the people in the industry whose time has come and gone but in public supported him to the fullest in his battle to avoid trial, all had OPINIONS about what they wanted to believe and thought they knew.
Thus, the justice- for- the- horses faction was shocked this year to see the charges against the veteran trainer dismissed as the result of a flawed search warrant, at least according to the judge who presided in the case, while performance horse elements breathed a sigh of relief: after Jimmy McConnell and Barney Davis, yet another abuse conviction centered around a performance trainer could not be absorbed.
However, Mr. Wheelon, feeling , no doubt, vindicated, is now using the legal system, as is his right, to have all his inventoried property, including mustard oil, seized during the Maryville raid along with other hard evidence collected from his facility, returned to him. The living victims , again as a result of a ruling from a Blount County judge, had long since been returned to their respective owners or to Mr. Wheelon himself.
The fact- based evidence in the case never made an appearance at trial before a jury. But, thanks to the federal Freedom of Information Act ( FOIA), the photos and chemical swab results that would have been entered into the court record are available to anyone wanting to take a look at what was going on within the walls of Mr. Wheelon’s business, which he later claimed was a private facility, not open to the public. Pictures and chemical analysis reports don’t lie.
As a matter of opinion, if it was possible for Justice to weep from beneath her blindfold, what happened through the legal process that sent Wheelon back to his “business” is one of the times when tears are appropriate. If you haven’t seen the evidence that was collected, access the photos and the chemical results by copying and pasting the link , because you need to see what the FOIA request produced: http://blog.humanesociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Wheelon-case-file.pdf
And, as a matter of opinion, if it was possible for the walking horse industry to blush, knowing that they put Mr. Wheelon into a Celebration sponsored horse show center ring this fall as a horse show judge, the evidence file should be enough to make some faces in leadership red, but don’t wait up for that to happen.
Recently, The Dodo ran an excellent piece about the Wheelon affair entitled, A Heartbreaking Look Inside a “Big Lick” Training Barn. Written by Keith Dane, HSUS vice president for equine protection, the article is reprinted here for public information.
A final note: It would be interesting to know if the 'professional' opinion of defense witness Dr. Bennett, the Shelbyville, Tennessee based performance horse industry veterinarian of choice and apologist for all things big lick, has changed an iota with the evidence of what was going on at Wheelon’s now available to the public.
Dr. Bennett, you might remember, testified in court that a horse standing in a bucket stance in one of the evidence photos was not an indication of soring practices but could have been the result of a misaligned tail set ( although the horse wasn’t wearing one in the photo). He also testified that although he had no knowledge of Wheelon’s prior Horse Protection Act violations that knowledge of such a history would not have made any difference in his opinion regarding the Wheelon matter.
Dr. Bennett would have to be a pretty limber person to continue to assert, now, that what was done to these horses was simply misinterpreted or a matter of uninformed opinion, make no bones about that, but if it can be done, he is probably supple enough to be able to do it.