Video exposes cruelty by Tennessee walking horse trainer

By on September 1, 2016 with 74 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Late last year, The HSUS obtained still photographs and reports from USDA inspectors who examined horses trained by Larry Wheelon during the execution of a search warrant. Wheelon is a well-known figure in the Tennessee walking horse show world. Those deeply disturbing images revealed that Wheelon and his associates intentionally injured and “sored” horses – deliberately injuring the animals’ feet to produce an artificial, exaggerated gait known as the “big lick.”

Now we’ve had our first look at video footage of the abuse Wheelon and his people perpetrated. This damning footage – plain evidence of criminal cruelty that Wheelon and his defense team tried to prevent from getting out into the public domain — is being released to the public for the first time today on this blog. The video shows a USDA inspector evaluating the injuries to the horses and confirms in a dramatic way what the still photographs told us about the cruelty these people committed in that barn. The horses felt such pain that they violently pulled away as the inspector handled their feet and lower limbs.

Tennessee law enforcement got their behind-the-scenes look at the goings-on in the barn in 2013, and the evidence of abuse was so jarring that they arrested Wheelon and three others under Tennessee’s animal cruelty law. Wheelon and his defense attorney managed to get the first set of charges dismissed on a technicality. But the evidence against him was so damning that a grand jury indicted Wheelon and his associates for aggravated cruelty to livestock and conspiracy to commit aggravated cruelty to animals – 15 felony charges and three misdemeanors.

But a Blount County judge granted Wheelon’s motion to suppress all evidence obtained during the search based on a technicality, letting him go scot-free. The photos, and now the video, have come to light only after The HSUS obtained them through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Despite plenty of evidence that there was wrongdoing, even if there was no conviction, Wheelon was embraced by the industry. As recently as a year ago, he was welcomed to judge a well-known “big lick” horse show in Columbia, Tennessee. He continued to train and exhibit “big lick” walking horses. It appears he kept on hurting horses, and he was again cited for breaking the law.

Wheelon was chair of the Walking Horse Trainers Association’s Ethics Committee and an AAA-rated horse show judge for the laughably named “Sound Horses, Honest Judging, Objective Inspections, Winning Fairly” (SHOW). This Horse Industry Organization’s list of judges reads like a who’s who of people cited for Horse Protection Act violations – including most of the judging panel for this year’s Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration currently underway in Shelbyville, Tennessee.


This video – and The HSUS’s undercover investigations at top walking horse training barns showing a subculture of cruelty within the “big lick” cadre of trainers and owners – underscores the desperate need for serious reform in this industry. The USDA’s proposed rule to strengthen its Horse Protection Act regulations would end four decades of failed industry self-policing and ban the use of devices such as tall stacked shoes and ankle chains that are an integral part of the soring process. This would be a monumental step forward in eradicating soring.

Of course, the horse soring crowd has long relied on a handful of lawmakers in Congress to protect them, and they’re now attempting to delay this rule — requesting a 60-day extension of the current public comment period scheduled to end on September 26th. The extension, if granted, would most likely put the rule on hold for the next president’s administration to consider – and condemn thousands of walking horses to yet another show season of agony like that inflicted by Larry Wheelon on his victims.


In photos taken by USDA investigators, the inside of Larry Wheelon’s barn looks like a medieval torture chamber. The walls are lined with heavy logging chains and weighted high heel shoes for the horses known as stacks.

In photos taken by USDA investigators, the inside of Larry Wheelon’s barn looks like a medieval torture chamber. The walls are lined with heavy logging chains and weighted high heel shoes for the horses known as stacks.

The HSUS, American Association of Equine Practitioners, and American Veterinary Medical Association are among the many groups advocating for the reforms offered by the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 3268/S. 1121, and by the USDA’s proposed rule that mirrors its key elements. We have contacted the USDA to urge the agency not to honor the request for delay, and instead move quickly to implement these long overdue reforms at the end of this comment period.

As the 78th Celebration rolls to a close in Shelbyville this week, we have good reason to hope this will be the last year in more than half a century of celebrating organized animal cruelty, and that a future free of pain and full of promise is on the horizon for the Tennessee walking horse breed.

Watch the video and view the photos of Larry Wheelon’s demonic handiwork – and when you are as outraged as I am by this flagrant brutality, take action to put a stop to it by telling the USDA you support its proposed rule, and want to see it implemented without delay.

Ask the USDA to strengthen regulations against horse soring »

Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Nancy Clement says:

    This is Deplorable!

    • Nagina Malik says:

      I think that the whole thing is disgusting and unfortunately has been going on for years. Waiting 60 more days is making innocent animals suffer for another 60 days – the deadline has to be stopped – now. I would just like to add that once this area of work is completed and stopped collectively we seriously have to look at the issue of the poor horses that get dragged around Memphis Tennessee all day pulling Cinderella Carraiges. They look miserable and not well kept and the whole thing needs investigated. And before I stop writing another issue is the number of dogs that owners are blatantly taking out for walks on a lead in areas such as Memphis Tennessee which have every bone in their rib cages showing. These are not Greyhounds or Whipits that are meant to be very thin. These are dogs that are malnourished and their owners appear to be oblivious to this. I just cannot stop to think of the pain that these poor horses have been subjected too. As humans we can speak out. Animals cannot speak out. They are at our mercy and collectively we have to act on their behalf and get the ban put through without delay. Anyway, my view is… If any of these people who inflicted the torture on these horses thinks they got away from it – believe you me- they will face the consequences for what they have done- in the next life.

      • Evelyn says:

        How helpless I feel that we sign these petitions over and over and still more abuse, neglect, and horrible unimaginable cruelty. PLEASE SOMEONE CREATE A WAY TO END THIS ALL. I can’t sleep sometimes because I feel helpless. I stop for every animal I see hurt abandoned or left to die in the cold. Thankfully were I live in MA that is not many. But I can only say that the people who do these things are not human. They are monsters. If you live in Tennessee seek every opportunity to stand in front of the horses with signs that say what happend to them. Speak for them God is with you.

    • Dina McKibben says:

      Dear God I thought this ended 50 yrs ago. People have been petitioning for 50 yrs that I know of. Why is this still going on????????😡😡😡😡😡

      • Sara says:

        The problem is worse than 50 years ago. The methods are more harsh and there is big money in the Big Lick. Plenty of money to spread around. The laws are already on the books. This abuse is illegal. Hit the owners and trainers where it hurts, the bank account. This is an expensive activity. Begin with mandatory inspections ,to include ultrasounds, of all animals arriving at the horse shows…..starting with the Celebration. If just one horse out of the show string has bad feet and/or legs, the entire stable is thrown out and sacrifices all entrance and stable fees. Have out of state vets and fariers perform exams to avoid possible conflict of interest. This will continue as long as it is profitable and tollerated.

  2. sija says:


    STOP THIS !!!!!!!!!!

    • Karike Hugo says:

      Please just stop with this torture it’s killing me to see these horses like this just stop😢😡

  3. Carol grant says:

    Please stop this barbaric torture. It’s vile.

  4. Connie T says:

    I have been following this fight against horse soring for years and would like to know the names of these “obstructionist” lawmakers that protect these sociopaths and who are now working to extend the deadline to submit comments to the USDA. I am so beyond sickened and enraged by the “Big Lick” community and elected officials who clearly do not have a humane bone in their bodies and need to be removed from public office. However, every year that I read about someone blocking the movement of the PAST Act there are no names given, so we as the public can’t do our jobs with phone calls, letters, social media, etc. I have an idea of who these people are but think it is critical for the Humane Society to disclose the names and links to the supporting documents so we can do our job as well. I have written letters to officials but feel paralyzed without knowing the names of these sociopaths in elected office. Please help us help the TWH by disclosing the names of these elected officials.

    • Dixie Lee Hodges says:

      That it what I was thinking too! If we know the names of the judicial “decision makers”, we can spread the word on social media and television to contact them and let them know that We The People do not agree with their decisions and will not re elect them .

      • Evelyn says:

        Ok So lets do exactly that, find out the names through your mayor, although he is probable in on it. And see to it that everyone is made aware this is the first I heard of it but I live in MA. If Everyone floods the office with letters they notice. In huge Letters Dont Vote For ?????? HE SUPPORTS CRUELTY! With a Picture its worth a thousand words.

    • Lynn says:

      Marsha Blackburn and Lamar Alexander have prevented this from going out of committee

    • Christina Gray says:

      The obstructionists are at the highest level of both federal and state governments: Mitch McConnell of KY, Hal Rodgers of KY, Lamar Alexander of TN, Bob Corker of TN. Every single Tennessee representative, with the exception of of Mr. Cohen of Memphis.

      • Bill Z says:

        I would like to see someone put those torture devises on Mitch McConnell and see how he would support it then!
        Since he pushed the papers in front of our new leader to sign for continuation of this torture-so they will continue to do this BS-

  5. ShirleyNelsen says:

    This needs to stop now. Please push this forward quickly

    Thank you

  6. Heidi Goldsmith says:

    Never have I been so disgusted with the cruelty mankind inflicts. This has to be stopped and those guilty severely punished, please please stop this, someone do something!!!!!!!!!

    • Susan Trout says:

      I’m right there with you. What does it take to cause people to react? Must the horses legs be set ablaze? They’re in agony and it doesn’t end. My heart aches!

  7. Bonnie Clydesdale says:

    This has to STOP!!! Its pure torture.

  8. tresa cook says:

    Stop the abuse of these innocent creatures that God has created…

  9. carol stott says:

    He needs to be convicted and go to jail. He will continue to do this until he does not have access to the horses anymore. Disgusting. And where is Animal Control when this happens…are they paid off?

  10. Lindsey maxworthy says:

    Absolutely unacceptable horrendous cruelty. This cannot be allowed, ever!

  11. patricia wanczyk says:

    this has been going on for ages !! why hasn’t it been stopped ??? I have seen this Guy and herd of his abuse before . What does it take to STOP THIS ???

    • Lynn says:

      You’ll have to get the judges to enforce the law. If it ever gets out of committee in Washington due to Marsha Blackburn and Lamar Alexander blocking the legislation

  12. Kathleen Reilmann says:

    This is not horsemanship! It is inhumane treatment and torture! Horses have their own special gaits. The way they show the walking horses is not beautiful – it’s obscene!

  13. Sarah says:

    Spring is criminal! People who partake in these cruel acts need to have their horses rescued and finded. Stop This Now . It’s inhumane.

  14. Marilyn Rovang says:

    I wish I could get away with shooting this Larry Wheelon!!! What a MORON!!! Get these laws changed to FULLY PROTECT these horse and put this sickass Wheelon out of business!!!!!!!!!!

  15. Sarah says:

    Soring is Criminal

  16. David Bernazani says:

    It’s ridiculous that despite the fact that everyone, including Congress and the USDA, is fully aware of the truly awful torture of those poor horses, we haven’t been able to put a stop to it. It’s absurd and outrageous, especially in 2016. What is wrong with this country, that we can’t collectively put a stop to an obvious wrong?

  17. Colleen Callistre says:

    My family have kept and shown horses in Europe for over 40 years. Please give this magnificent breed of horse a chance. Such blatant cruelty belongs in the dark ages. Certain types of people used to think bear baiting and bull fighting were cool until they were enlightened. Please show the world that the American people are enlightened and compassionate in the 21st century , not lagging behind appearing to be led by cold, psychopathic law makers.I know the cruel people are in the minority…. please could you make their horse torture non existent. Many Thanks.

  18. Barbara G. says:

    I have signed enough petitions trying to stop this barbaric treatment of these horses and so far nothing has changed. Jail, jail, jail for all of these creatures that pretend to be human. I know one thing if I saw anybody pouring burning chemicals on a horse’s legs they would wake up in the ER not knowing what hit them, then after they could walk they would be looking out of bars for a very long time. Isn’t the FBI supposed to looking into animal cruelty? Where are they?????

  19. Jennifer Hardacre says:

    “Big lick” proponents claim that “a multitude of studies” show that stacks and chains do not harm the horse. This is false. A study carried out over a period of four years by Dr. RC Purohit of Auburn University found that chains produced bleeding and pus after only two days, and that raising the horse’s heels by only 8 degrees (as on stacks) caused such inflammation of the flexor tendons that the horse could bear only 5 psi when touched, whereas a non-sored horse can bear 40 psi. Sored horses were described as “display[ing] many signs of discomfort and distress … by reluctance to move, [being oblivious] to surroundings (i.e.,depressed), standing “in a bucket”, stumbling, falling, hanging the head, and an altered facial expression” now termed the pain face. (Purohit, 1978-1982)

  20. Jennifer Hardacre says:

    An “objective, scientific” inspection process the big lick supporters paid for but don’t want us to know about?
    The so-called “performance horse” (big lick) supporters claim that they do not apply topical anaesthetics to their horses’ pasterns in order to get them through the inspection, during which the inspector presses on the pastern to see if the horse flinches. If the horse doesn’t react, it is deemed “compliant” with the Horse Protection Act and is allowed to show. However, a study by Szarka and Prokai (2015) found that benzocaine and/or lidocaine were found on swabs collected during Walking Horse inspections; in other words, their analytic instruments did “detect local anaesthetics applied as masking agents to elude recognition of soring”. This study “was supported by the Foundation for the Advancement and Support of the Tennessee Walking Show Horse”. Journal of Mass Spectrometry, February, 2015.

  21. Janine says:

    Ban the Big Lick, once and for all in all show rings.. its unnatural and looks ugly.. fire all the judges that score winners on this nasty looking unnatural gait and get judges that look for natural movements.. the Big Lick is what is causing this torture, Ban it and guess how fast this practice will stop.. !

  22. marilyn corio says:

    I am outraged at this horrific abuse. Please stop this insane abuse right now, never to happen again. Put all the sadistic abusers in jail for a long stay!!!!

  23. Loren Yagoda says:

    I thought this was resolved 20 years ago. Hang him by chains
    It is totally apparent in any show ring that this is still happening. Why has it not stopped.

  24. Mary Bowman says:

    It is many years past time for the USDA proposed changes to be adopted. This horrible barbaric torture of horses must end.

  25. Heather Pope says:

    Stop now.

  26. Suzanne says:

    Please put in place laws/rules punishable by jail time NOW!

  27. S. Blane says:

    As an owner of a beautiful Tennessee Walking Horse who has never been subjected to this cruel and inhumane treatment I ask your association to do everything in your power to help stop this from continuing. Horses are not here for us to manipulate so cruelly just for our own adulation and self importance. Mr. Wheelon is the epitome of a cruel, selfish, arrogant human who believes he is above the law and he will never stop until there are concise, clear and unchangeable laws that cannot be manipulated by people who seek their own self-interest. If you ever saw how truly beautiful the natural gait of a Tennessee Walker is meant to be, people would realize how truly obscene this practice is.

  28. Marilyn Kent says:

    Equine cruelty should not be the training method to these icons of legion and worth.
    A horse will pleasantly do anything when trained properly…out of the arena and in the arena…
    The horse is sacred and has much power of instinct and love…
    It is criminal to abuse them , as without them this country would not have been built..
    I am a congressional rep lobbyed the Anti-Slaughter for 20 years …got the bill on the table 2x 2011…
    Since 2012 into 2014 , had 6 horses stolen , got 3 tbs back abused, emanciated , ulcerated, overgrown ..I am still working on getting my other 3 returned…33, 20, 21…they are my lesson horses…highly trained special needs, level1,2,3.
    Valerie Pringle ,Equine Expert Washington DC expert…has seen their pictures …”get an attorney”…

    I have fought for the rights of many horses…but never my own to this extent ..
    Equine, and all Animal abuse is disgusting and torture during training is not effective…

    • Lynn says:

      With time and patience these horses can have a big lick without the soreing. It takes much time, and the trainers had rather sore their horses than take the time to train them correctly. As long as owners have the money and power they receive from having a winning horse these practices will continue. Trainers will continue to use them to keep owners happy. I say go after the owners as well as the trainers. I had some input into writing this bill, and my dad was a trainer for many years. We rode a horse for two to three hours training, and they had a beautiful lick without soreing. We had to get back to the best of the breed and go from there. I was also an exhibitor, and did not ride sore horses.

  29. Elsie Beebe says:

    This horror must stop, animal torture is what it is! Barbarians!

  30. odette Gates says:

    Sorry ,but I can’t Deal with this! it is to hard for me to see! poor Horses!

  31. Stacy Sprague says:

    Please stop this violence against theses animals and make people like Larry Wheelon pay for the damage done to them. So many horses are being abused and put in rescue centers maybe Wheelon should be hit hard for what he has done. Let’s make an example out of him.

  32. tanya Myers says:

    We just need to just do the same thing to those people as they do to those babies

  33. karen sanginetti says:

    it is not a natural gate, chemical that is put on their legs burns the skin and then put chains on so it will rub and make them high step. it is disgusting and should be stopped as of yesterday .

  34. Alicia Nuncio says:

    This has to end no animal deserves treatment like this!! He needs to be held responsible for his evil actions against these beautiful creatures!!

  35. Shonda Devane says:

    Once again I ask “what’s wrong with people?” Please stop this cruel act!

  36. Michele Truell says:

    I can’t watch it because I know it’s horrific but I want to sign the petition

  37. Cher-Ami says:

    There needs to be a much higher punishment for ALL animal cruelty.

  38. Lacey says:

    Easy fix, all animal abusers, especially these people….Death.

  39. Susan Trout says:

    If you don’t flinch as you watch these horses react in pain and fear, then you have no conscience. I cannot believe that human beings are capable of such mindless cruelty. And if you attend and watch the “big lick” classes you are just as guilty of animal abuse as the sociopaths that inflict it directly. To deliberately cause pain and suffering to a voiceless animal is a sin that I hope God punishes harshly when these miscreants stand before him one day. Every congressional representative who has dragged his/her feet in doing all that can be done to stop this should be voted out of office. There are no excuses. There is NO justification to allow this to continue. YOU are as much a part of this hateful cruelty as owners, breeders, judges, and spectators who participate in, condone, and make excuses. STOP THIS NOW! We cannot claim to be the “superior” species. We are gifted with reasoning and if reasoning is not guided by morality, decency and true humanity, then we are WORSE than the creatures who cannot reason.

  40. real gagnon says:

    I will never attend another horse show when this classes are included.

    • V says:

      I think you hit the nail on the head! It’s the entire eventing industry & judges at these shows that should not require a horse to have the ‘big lick’! If it would disqualify a horse or make it undesirable, the trainers would stop this barbaric practice. No demand, no supply…

  41. Beth Webb says:

    How about all who do this get acid poured on their bare feet and then made to run around a cinder track while we all cheer for the highest fastest stepper, and ignore the pleas and cries and whaling that would be going on! Then and only then would they know what they have inflicted on these poor horses.

  42. Jim Hart says:

    No animal should have to suffer to entertain people. STOP IT NOW!!!!

  43. jean downing says:

    God did not create these animals to be abused! Please if you see this stop them or report them.

  44. Dixie Lee Hodges says:

    I concur with you Mona. Let the punishment fit the crime !

  45. Gail says:

    How can this SOB get away with this I cannot watch it because it is late at night and I will be traumatized evil sob

  46. Susie Dann says:

    I live in Tn. and this sickens me. The farm across the rd. from me has a mare that is crippled in the rear legs from abuse. Let us all pray that this madness ends. As a lifelong horse lover & trainer, the Big Lick Is Not Pretty to me. Let’s keep up the fight until we win!

  47. HEIDI says:

    Where is this person now and Has anyone else try to get him stopped??

  48. Trey Barnette says:

    Once again dirty politics dictated by money allows these horrendous soring practices to
    continue through the heart of this show season. I blame the horse owners just as much by allowing such techniques for only a better chance of a blue ribbon.
    I would recommend HSUS to use same practice the trainers use so they can walk around like the “pigs they are.

  49. Ernie Jay says:

    The “Big Lick” is in the same criminal abuse as dog and/or rooster fighting (and bull fighting). The laws must say that anyone who participates in any such “shows” or any activities to create a “Big Lick Gait” is guilty of a felony. And all attendees of such shows need to be arrested and prosecuted as felonious crimes as well for aiding and abetting.

  50. Maxwell Dickinson says:

    This no soring rule has been in effect since the 1960’s. Why is the government to lax in enforcing it? Let’s elect a president with some guts.

    • Candice A Hoting says:

      It will take a lobbyist (which cost between $5,000 to $25,000 per MONTH) to get the government to take note. Otherwise not much will be done. Once you can pay and convince the lobbyist, then and only then, will the government take note.

  51. ms.jackie l. says:

    i felt sorry for the horse have suffer all the time ,all the people should not abuse horses not at all.i like horses is very beautiful good have a horse could save your life ,if you are owner of a horse the animal will save your life from whipper i look at that movie is very good movie.i like horse alot is very good animal and the horse is very cute too.i wish i have a horse to take care of the animal.let the horse live on god put the horse on this world and people on this come to this world too.all the animal should get along with each other ,i hope i ride on a horse one day .

  52. Beth Nordmeyer says:

    WHY does OUR GOVERNMENT STILL ALLOW THIS! Shelbyville Tennessee sores horses right and left, shows them. Inspector fines trainer, the fine is paid and they keep doing their nasty business! AS A TAXPAYER I AM FURIOUS THAT SPRING IS ALLOWED!

  53. Ella says:

    This is Horrid, This is one of the worst things that can possibly happen to any living animal. These people must be mentally screwed up.

  54. Zeb says:

    I´m only a young child and watching that video makes me very sad. Horse are my favorite animal so i cant stand all of the cruelty going on.

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