About that Judge (It Seems Wrong to Call Him Honorable)

Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.

— Mark Twain in The Mysterious Stranger

Note, first some Good News: PAST Act Update, as of September 25, 2015 184 Representatives and 47 Senators are now co-sponsoring the legislation. To see the list go to current cosponsors of the PAST Act 

Tonight in Columbia, Tennessee, at a horse show called the PC Splash (not because it’s a politically correct show but because it used to be held in Panama City, Florida, before being subsumed into a venue closer to the training barns of middle Tennessee) big lick and flat shod horses will once again be displaying their wares before a three judge panel.  The SHOW (Sound horses, honest judging, objective inspections, winning fairly) judges will decide which riders will take home the Riders’ Cup points that translate later in the season into money as well as the blue ribbons which don’t, except for the advertising dollars that are spent in proclaiming a one -night stand victory.


  As these proud owners like to talk about the quality of their horseflesh, they might give some thought as to the curious quality of one of the judges selected to determine who the fairest of the fair will be. 


Is that laughter that you hear across the country? Better to laugh than to cry, one supposes.


In a hiring decision that can only be called one of the great mysteries of life, or an ultimate middle finger salute to the general public and the animal welfare advocates demanding that soring and abusive training stop and the PAST Act become law, the committee running the PC Splash, reached into the SHOW official judges' list and pulled out quite a plum, no stranger to the sore horse crowd:  Larry Wheelon.


You may remember that the infamous Wheelon was indicted for felony animal abuse but never got his trial before a jury of his peers, thanks to a muddled search warrant (at least in the eyes of the presiding judge in Blount County) and some pretty fancy lawyering, which had to have had some pretty fancy fees attached to it. The case against him was dismissed earlier this year. He wasn’t found guilty but there is no doubt that he is far from an innocent when it comes to his activities with horses.


His history of Horse Protection Act violations accumulated long before the raid on his Tennessee facility, and an HIO ticket for a sore horse that was given just before his case should have come to trial,  tell a story that is not consistent with being the sportsman of the year.  Yet, tonight, he will join his colleagues, Robbie Spiller of Tennessee and Smokey Carswell of Kentucky, to mark the cards and stand in judgment.  If the traditional script is followed, the announcer will call him ‘The Honorable Larry Wheelon’ in making the introductions to the audience.  


Columbia must be wondering what’s happening to its city- owned horse show arena this year. It was the scene of the first organized protests against big lick walking horse shows. It saw the first indictment of a trainer charged with aggravated assault for pointing a truck and trailer directly at a protestor who says she feared for her life. And now, the trifecta, Larry Wheelon is coming to town.


The definition of the word judge is “one who is considered to be competent to decide upon the merits of a thing or to make critical evaluations”. The definition of the word honorable is “ possessing high moral principles”. 


Granted, Larry Wheelon is more than capable of deciding upon the merits of which exaggerated gait is the best of the aberrations that will be on display before him in Columbia   because that is his field of expertise.  


As to Mr. Wheelon possessing high moral principles, the public should be the judge. Quietly, now that the court case against him has been dropped, the word is that Judge Wheelon continues to use the legal process to his purposes. A motion has reportedly been filed requesting that all the property seized from his facility during the raid be returned to him; this would presumably include containers of agents long associated with the general practices of soring horses that were inventoried and removed from his own version of the “scary room”, a descriptive phrase used by Rhonda Thorson on an audiotape during an HSUS undercover investigation of the Thorsport facility.   


Giving a person a pen and a pad may make a person a horse show judge;  standing him out in the center of an arena may be OK with the crowd that comes to show before him;  but,  calling him honorable, even some of these folks should have a hard time choking that down.


Better simply to say, “Here comes the judge!” and get on with it.  That’s what you do on a Friday night in Tennessee.  No need for anyone else to be accused of trashing the horse show tradition. It appears that the people who make the decisions about judges for these shows   can and did do that all on their own.