"Today, Tennessee Walking Horses are known throughout the industry
as the breed that shows abused and tortured horses."

~ Jim Heird, Ph.D., Do Right By The Horse, February 2010

"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity,
you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men."

~ St. Francis of Assisi

Saturday, April 20, 2013

LOTS OF INFO - Ag-Gag Bill Results, Raid at BL Barn, PAST Act Opinion, Foreign Substances at 2012 Celebration, Iris Scans by USDA

**To identify my text and opinion from the articles' text, my text is in green.**

It amazes me that sometimes we can have such tragedy yet such hope at the same time.  My thoughts and prayers have been on the folks in Texas and Boston this week.  But I've also been amazed by the advances in the fight to end soring that's also happened this week.

It was also tragic that we learned that the Ag-Gag bill passed in the TN House by one vote.  But the governor hasn't signed it yet.  PLEASE, send your emails and make phone calls to the Governor's office to urge him to veto the bill.  Use the Jackie video as your evidence as to why this bill needs to go away!

From the ASPCA (click here for the article):


Bad news, animal advocates: The Tennessee Legislature has passed the whistleblower suppression (or “ag-gag”) bill. As you know, the whistleblower suppression bill (S.B. 1248/H.B. 1191) would criminalize activities necessary to conduct undercover investigations on farms, penalize whistleblowers, and protect animal abusers instead of working to prevent such mistreatment. It's a terrible move for Tennessee’s animals and gives the state's responsible, humane farmers a bad name.

There is only one way left to stop the bill from becoming state law: Convince Governor Haslam to veto it.

We have no time to lose. Please act now—seize this final opportunity to prevent whistleblower suppression from becoming law.

What You Can Do

1) The most valuable action you can take is to call Governor Haslam’s office right now to voice your opposition to the whistleblower suppression bill. The number is (615) 741-2001. 

2. Calling is the best way to quickly get your message through, but feel free to also email the governor at bill.haslam@tn.gov or by using our pre-drafted message at ASPCA.org.

3. If you have an account on Twitter, please send a tweet to Governor Haslam (@BillHaslam) asking him to veto S.B. 1248/H.B. 1191.

However you do it, it’s crucial that you contact the governor today to ask for a veto and ask every other Tennessee citizen to do the same.

Thank you for your help, Tennessee!


BUT, just because the Ag-Gag bill passed doesn't mean raids don't still work!  And now for the positive side of this week!

The biggest news is that State, County, and Federal Officers Searched Larry Wheelon's Barn on April 18.  They arrived with a search warrant at 9 am.  During the nine-hour search, inspectors removed wraps and shoes and performed iris scans (more info below about iris scans).  Horse Haven of Tennessee was there to help handle the horses (click here for their Facebook page).

Wheelon is an active director of the Tennessee Walking Horse Trainers' Association, and get this: he's on the Ethics Committee for the Walking Horse Trainers' Association.  Ain't that a kicker?  According to the USDA database, Wheelon has 13 violations, the most recent ones being in 2012.

Here's Roy Exum's exclusive article about this copied and pasted below.  Click here for the article.  It's the most comprehensive and informative I've seen so far.


Feds Pounce On Maryville Horse Trainer
Friday, April 19, 2013 - by Roy Exum

Federal agents, accompanied by Blount County animal control officers, raided the barn of walking horse trainer Larry Wheelon near Maryville, Tn., on Thursday morning and sources said they were  “shocked” to find evidence of illegal soring and visible abuse among the 28 horses at the farm located on Tuckaleechee Pike.

Sources said the forelegs of most of the horses were wrapped after caustic substances had been applied to the animals and a paste thought to be a mixture including cinnamon and kerosene was being utilized to achieve the so-called “Big Lick,” an unnatural gait that wins blue ribbons in Shelbyville.

According to one source, several horses were “in agony” as veterinarians palpated the animals’ irritated front legs.

Wheelon told reporters from television station WBIR (Channel 10 News in Knoxville) that the agents didn’t find anything after serving a search warrant at approximately 7 a.m., but a Blount County animal control officer was quoted by the TV station as saying, “I think we have very different ideas about what abuse is.” Agents spent nine hours at Wheelon’s barn on Thursday in order to inspect each animal.

Because Wheelon did not have written proof the animals had been inspected for Coggins Disease (equine infectious anemia), 27 of the horses were later placed under quarantine by state health officials and cannot be transported. On Friday, federal attorneys were pursuing whether a protective order and/or similar legal instruments should also be employed. The names of the owners of the horses have not been released.
Since the Thursday raid, neither the USDA nor county animal control officials will make any comment “due to an ongoing investigation” but outside sources revealed the USDA officers included licensed veterinarians who were video-taped as they removed the wrapping from the horses’ legs, discovered alleged caustic agents, palpated tender areas and took sterile swabs.

It is believed it will take approximately two weeks for the labs to properly analyze the swabs. If the lab tests, and other evidence taken, result in an arrest warrant, Wheelon and others involved could be charged by federal and state agencies. Officers of the Blount County Sheriff’s Department also participated in the raid to provide security. Wheelon was not allowed on the property while the search warrant was in place.
It is being reported that approximately 26 of the 28 horses had wrapping on their forelegs and, under a Tennessee law that went into effect last July, each count that is proven valid is now a felony, punishable by not less than one but no more than five years in prison. Under federal law, horse abuse is still a misdemeanor, although there is legislation pending that would make it a more serious crime.

Wheelon, who is an active director of the Tennessee Walking Horse Trainer’s Association, has been suspended by the USDA at least 15 different times for violations of the Horse Protection Act, dating from 1993 through 2012. Additionally, he was fined $1,550 in 1981 by the USDA and court records reveal that in 1978 he was charged with soring a horse at a North Carolina show. A person known as “Linda Wheelon” was also suspended in 2006, according to USDA archives.

Wheelon is a member of the Ethics Committee for the Walking Horse Trainer’s Association and sits on its building committee. He is a member of the East Tennessee Walking Horse Association and is a AAA-rated horse show judge with the Shelbyville-based S.H.O.W. organization, the largest of the USDA’s registered horse groups. S.H.O.W. is an abbreviation meaning “Sound Horses. Honest Judging. Objective Inspections. Winning Fairly.”

The agents raided his barn after receiving a tip, it is believed.

Ironically, on Wednesday of this week the Tennessee Legislature voted to approve a law that requires a“whistleblower” to report animal abuse to law authorities within a 48-hour time period or be charged with a misdemeanor. It is now alleged that if the “AgGag”law were in effect (it is awaiting the governor’s signature) the tipster would be the criminal and Wheelon – who is indeed innocent until proven guilty –would skip any state charges due to the bill’s carefully-crafted limitations.

The USDA recently released an 11-page report of foreign substance results that were taken at random at horse shows in 2012. According to the Department of Agriculture, of 24 shows that were tested by licensed officials, 309 out of 478 walking horses tested positive for banned substances.

Each trainer was issued a “ticket” by the USDA. The trainer is suspended from showing horses but by assigning another trainer, changing the horse’s name and using another “owner,” the horse can stay in the competition.

Federal prosecutors in Chattanooga enforced the Federal Horse Protection Act for the first time in its 40-year history just two years ago and, among those who pleaded guilty in 2012 was Hall of Fame trainer Jackie McConnell, who is still awaiting a state trial after videos were taken showing him torturing horses at his barn in West Tennessee.

The video, going viral after it appeared on ABC’s“Nightline,” brought worldwide attention to the widespread horse abuse in Tennessee and the state legislature enacted a bill to make livestock abuse a felony. Since the law went into effect on July 1, 2012, it has not yet been used by state prosecutors in a criminal case.
It is believed federal and state animal control agencies have heightened enforcement of livestock abuse due to increased public interest and better laws to prosecute violators. Asked if there would be other raids in the state, officials would not comment.


Wheelon says they didn't find anything.  Okay, come on, seriously?  Did they just walk up to him after the search and say welp, we didn't find nuthin', have a nice day!  And folks within the Industry are saying that the USDA released a press release the next day saying they didn't find anything.  Right.  After a nine-hour search, they rushed home to release a statement saying they didn't find anything.  Of course, no one can produce this press release, so it's most likely not real.

Wheelon is also reporting to What A Horse that he asked the officers to remove shoes.  Okay, now that's just trying to save face at this point.  He wasn't allowed to attend the search, and the officers had brought a farrier with them.  I doubt very seriously he asked them to do it.

It's going to take a couple of weeks for the results to come back.  I'll keep you updated as the news unfolds.  In the meantime, use this event as part of your letters to your Congresspersons in support of the PAST Act, HR 1518.

(I have to say, out of all the acronyms that come out of the TWH Industry, I like PAST the best!)

Next, Roy wrote a piece about the release of the PAST Act and tied it into the Ag-Gag bill (obviously this was written before the Ag-Gag bill was passed).  Click here for the article, copied and pasted below.  He has some wonderful things to say, and check out that list of supporters!  WOW!


Roy Exum: Oh No! Am I A Terrorist?
Monday, April 15, 2013 - by Roy Exum

Tennessee's dreaded “AgGag” bill, which make those who covertly film or expose acts of animal abuse into criminals, was delayed in the Tennessee Legislature last week but if proponents have their way, a vote on House Bill 1191 will be taken tomorrow in Nashville. The bill, widely criticized by animal rights activists but causing the sickening “Big Lick” segment of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry to urge for its approval, would charge any whistle-blowers with a state misdemeanor if they don’t turn over all evidence to police authorities within 24 to 48 hours.

The very fact the Shelbyville-centered “performance horse” crowd supports the bill is enough to give millions of horsemen around the world the cold shivers but now comes the notion the bill is in blatant discord with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.Rep. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) will try to block the bill in House Committee and said, “This is the first time I have ever seen a bill requiring media to report what they see to police.”

Obviously, Rep Lundberg has smelled the very conspicuous rat. Often it takes longer than 48 hours to build a case. And in Shelbyville, where there have been hundreds of violations of the federal Horse Protection Act at the National Celebration in recent years, law enforcement is so cozy (and dependent) on the Big Lick you’d think the two were country cousins. It’s a fact -- there has not been one local arrest in over 40 years of widespread horse abuse in Bedford County.

Deloris Grisham (R-Somerville) has sponsored the AgGag bill in the state Senate but Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) knows the bill is a sham. “Obviously this is a Catch-22 bill,” he said last week after getting Grisham to postpone the bill until tomorrow. Further, Norris has indicated he has no choice but to oppose the bill.

Senator Grisham is fooling no one when she piously cries, “This is not an anti-whistle blower bill … we’re just saying, whistle blower, blow your whistle. Take what you have to law enforcement so the abuse will stop.”

Oh, please, Deloris! Like your fellow sponsor, Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden), you viciously and publicly call those who filmed the award-winning tape of Jackie McConnell sadistically torturing horses as “vigilantes” while some whacko private-interest group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, calls the same people “terrorists.” Believe it or not --  the ALEC wants those who decry animal abuse to be included in some type of a “terrorist registry.” Deloris, please give them my name because horse lovers are well aware what Tennessee has allowed the real criminals to do to Tennessee Walkers. Why do you want to be the “Big Lick” poster girl?

What Grisham, Holt and others on the Tennessee Legislature fail to comprehend is that the state leads the entire world in horse abuse. It is so shameful and glaringly wrong that just last week in Washington a new bill was proposed in Congress that makes Tennessee lawmakers appear as crazed buffoons. This whole defense of those who main and torture horses is beyond my comprehension.

On Friday the 2013 Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (PAST) H.R. 1518, was introduced by lead sponsors U.S. Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., along with Reps. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., and Jim Moran, D-Va., as original cosponsors. It strengthens the Horse Protection Act, originally passed in 1970.

In short, the American people are fed up with what is happening to Tennessee Walking Horses and, if that makes all those across the nation as well as the world who are continually nauseated over the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s lack of enforcement of these “vigilanties,” I’ll guarantee you the twisted ALEC group is going to need a much-larger computer.

Tennessee legislators like Grisham and Holt are an embarrassment but – get this – the Tennessee Farm Bureau is even supporting the bill, which is inexcusable. Why would the Farm Bureau openly try to shield animal abuse? Why would anybody even worry about a 24-hour window “to comply with the law” if there wasn’t something that thugs were trying to hide? Any and all attempts to block the eradication of horse soring are laughable and should be exposed – excuse me -- without the help of a stopwatch.

Just as a fun little exercise, here is a partial list of those already in support of the Congressional PAST Act, which was just introduced on Friday [April 12]:

* * *


1. American Veterinary Medical Association

2. American Association of Equine Practitioners

3. Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association

4. Veterinarians for Equine Welfare

5. Donna Preston Moore, DVM, former head of USDA’s Horse Protection Program

6. Michelle Abraham (Resident) New Bolton Center, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine

7. Susan Botts, DVM

8. Angela M. Dion, DVM

9. Judith L. Ford, Veterinary Technician

10. Hanna Galantino-Homer, VMD, PHD

11. Alicia Grossman, DVM

12. Midge Leitch, VMD, former head of Radiology, New Bolton Center, University of Pennsylvania School Of Veterinary Medicine

13. Sue Lindborg, CVT Research Specialist New Bolton Center

14. Benson B. Martin, DVM, Associate Professor Sports Medicine, New Bolton Center, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine

15. Nat Messer, DVM, University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine

16. Mary A. Robinson, VMD, PhD

17. Mary Lynn Stanton, DVM

18. Joy Tomlinson, DVM

19. Harry Werner VMD , past president, American Association of Equine Practitioners

* * *


1. Humane Society of the United States

2. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)

3. Animal Law Coalition

4. Animal Legal Defense Fund

5. Animal Welfare Institute

6. Equine Welfare Alliance

7. Homes for Horses Coalition

8. Humane Society Legislative Fund

* * *


1. American Horse Council

2. American Morgan Horse Association

3. American Paint Horse Association

4. Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH)

5. Gaitway Walking Horse Association (Missouri)

6. Mountain Pleasure Horse Association (Kentucky)

7. National Plantation Walking Horse Association

8. National Walking Horse Association

9. New York State Plantation Walking Horse Club

10. Northern California Walking Horse Association

11. Pennsylvania Pleasure Walking Horse Association

12. Pinto Horse Association of America

13. Plantation Walking Horse Association of California

14. Plantation Walking Horses of Maryland

15. Pure Pleasure Gaited Horse Association (Oklahoma)

16. Tennessee Walking Horse Association of Oklahoma

17. Yankee Walkers/Gaited Horse of New England (Maine)

* * *

That’s right, not many Tennesseans are listed. Imagine that. It is time for the Tennessee State Legislature to grasp the fact the overwhelming number of people who they represent are disgusted and embarrassed to live in the very state that leads the world in the abuse of its horses.


One of the most significant parts of this list is that the American Horse Council supports the PAST Act.  The AHC used to support the Industry.  Luckily, they have realized what's right and have changed their minds.  I'm so glad for this, because it's a huge blow to the Industry.

Click here for our blog post concerning the PAST Act and how to get your letters in!

The USDA results are in for swab tests from the Celebration last year.  And, surprise surprise:

190 horses sampled; 145 tested positive = 76% found sore = 24% compliance rate

Click here for the official results from all the shows in the 2012 show season that the USDA attended.

The major results:
24 shows sampled; 478 samples taken; 309 positive samples = 65% found sore = 35% compliance rate

So...where's the Industry's so-called 97% compliance rate now?

Below is a poignant post from the Walking Horse Chat by Billy Go Boy.  Billy Go Boy is a regular who points out tons of facts and great information about the Industry's current state.  Mostly I want people to see the WHTA results compared to the USDA results.  Note that the opinion parts of this don't represent me or FTTWH, but they are something we all should think about.


Posted - April 16 2013 : 02:14:58 AM
The USDA has released the swab test results from the 2012 Celebration.
USDA had 190 horses sampled and 145 TESTED positive for foreign substances.


WHTA said it swabbed all horses, but only TESTED two in each class.
The WHTA Swabbing Initiative with a select Trainers Committee filtering the results and having a straw man "Commissioner" announce results:

Friday, August 24, 2012
1st Round of Swabbing Results
No violations-Wednesday morning’s swabs

Sunday, August 26, 2012
2nd Round of Swabbing Results
No violations-Thursday/Friday’swabs

Wednesday, August 29, 2012
3rd Round of Swabbing Results
No violations-Saturday/Sunday swabs

Friday, August 31, 2012
4th Round of Swabbing Results
No violations-Monday/Tuesday swabs

Saturday, September 01, 2012
5th Round of Swabbing Results
One (1) swab from Wednesday, August 29, 2012 failed
Brad Davis (Jackie McConnell’s son in law and Star’s owner, Wilsene Moody’s current trainer) = suspended license for 2 weeks, will remove ribbon, prize money, trophy, will retie class may not present horse at remainder of Celebration or participate as a rider,

Sunday, September 02, 2012
6th Round of Swabbing Results
No violations-Thursday swabs

Friday, September 14, 2012
7th Round of Swabbing Results
One (1) swab from Wednesday, August 29, 2012 failed
Scott Beaty = suspend license for 2 weeks, will remove ribbon, prize money, trophy, will retie class may not present horse at remainder of Celebration or participate as a rider,

If memory serves the WHTA Initiative swabbed all the horses, but only actually TESTED the swabs for two horses in each class.

And the "Commissioner" announced a grand total of TWO violations for the entire Celebration out of about 250+/- tests.

Word in the barn lanes was that there were LOTS of violations, but the "Select Committee" was making calls to the offenders and issuing "stern" warnings and "wet noodle" lashes to the sinners.

And the "Commissioner" was saying "all is well".

There SHOULD have been transparency if there was going to be swabbing.

It is now noteworthy that the Father of the "Swabbing Initiative", Gauleiter Eichler, is no longer in favored status with Terry's Troopers.

And swabbing is now no longer mentioned.


I think all of this speaks for itself.

The USDA released information explaining how they are now using iris scan for horse identification.  Click here for the article, copied and pasted below.  I had heard rumors that they were doing this at the Trainers show last month (where there were LOTS of violations).  I'm glad that it's true that they're doing this now.

Iris scans are going to be extremely helpful for the TWH.  No two horse's eyes are the same, so each horse is identified as unique.  A common practice in the Industry is to bring one horse to the inspection, but then switch him out for the "real" horse to be in the class, the one that is sored.  This can be done easily with black and chestnut horses, and is one reason why we don't see a lot of colorful horses in the ring.

So this technology basically can help the violations follow the horse, so to speak.  Many times sored horses that are caught are just given new names and shown at different venues.  Now it's going to be very hard for the Industry to play these games to keep their sore horses in the ring.


USDA Horse Protection Program Utilizing Iris Scan Technology for Equine Identification

Questions and Answers

APHIS’ Horse Protection program has a new technological tool that will allow its inspectors to better identify horses before they enter the inspection area. Beginning in March 2013, APHIS will be using iris scanners as part of the agency’s continued efforts to put an end to horse soring through its enforcement of the Horse Protection Act.

The Horse Protection Act is a federal law that prohibits sored horses from participating in shows, sales, exhibitions or auctions. The Act also prohibits drivers from transporting sored horses to or from any of these events. Soring is a cruel and inhumane practice used to accentuate a horse’s gait; it may be accomplished by irritating or blistering a horse’s forelegs through the application of chemicals or mechanical devices. Walking horses are known for possessing a naturally high gait, but in order to be successful in competition; their natural gait is often exaggerated. The exaggerated gait can be achieved with proper training and considerable time. However, some exhibitors, owners and trainers have chosen to use improper training methods to shorten the time it would take to produce a higher gait in their horses.

APHIS works actively with the horse industry to protect against soring and to ensure that only sound and healthy horses participate in shows. APHIS’ ultimate goal is to end this inhumane practice completely.

Question: Why is APHIS using iris scans when there are already other means in place to identify horses?
Answer: Scanning a horse’s iris is a pain-free, non-invasive alternative to branding, tattooing and other identification methods. It limits undue stress to the animal.

Q: What are the benefits to this particular method of identifying horses?
A: These scanners will allow APHIS to establish a definitive identity of a horse because no two irises are alike. Iris scans are more accurate than even a human fingerprint. Plus, an iris scan is a totally non-invasive means of identifying a horse – unlike micro-chipping or tattooing.

Iris scans also tell APHIS whether or not a particular horse has ever been sored before because the scanners maintain an information database that includes any previous Horse Protection Act violations. This provides a much better tracking system for APHIS – and the industry – than what is currently in place.

Q: How does the scanner work?
A: These scanners will produce a digital photograph of the iris of a horse's eye. The photographs, along with other information about each horse, are stored electronically in the scanner’s processor.

Q: What is the benefit to breeders, trainers, owners and exhibitors and the walking horse industry as a whole?
A: This will be a very good thing for all individuals who are not soring their horses. For example, using iris scans will allow a potential buyer to learn if a particular horse has ever been sored when that animal’s history comes up on the scanner. This will help an owner sell his/her horse with proof that the horse has not been sored.

Iris scans will also aid the industry because this method of horse identification will decrease the number of sored horses that are being shown or sold. Scanning will identify which horses are sored and which are clean – and keep a record of it.

Iris scans will also show how particular regions of the country are adhering to the Horse Protection Act by showing where soring is more prevalent. For instance, if a number of sored horses are coming out of a particular county, the industry can focus its education efforts in that county to show the trainers there that they don’t need to sore their horses in order to get successful results. This will keep the focus on humane methods of training horses.

Q: How will using iris scans decrease horse soring?
A: A person who has been cited for soring his horse during a competition will have very little incentive for entering a horse into another class during that same competition because the scanner will identify the infraction to APHIS the next time that horse’s irises are scanned.

Q: Was there anything in particular that prompted APHIS to begin using iris scanners at this time?
A: APHIS is responding to the 2010 Office of Inspector General audit of its Horse Protection program. One of the audit’s recommendations was for the agency to prohibit horses that have been disqualified (due to soring violations) from competing in any other classes at a horse show, exhibition or other horse-related event.

APHIS has the authority under the Horse Protection Act to prohibit horses from competing in subsequent events after designated qualified persons (DQPs) or APHIS veterinary medical officers detect a violation. To better ensure that sored horses do not compete in later events, the agency wanted a totally reliable way to identify horses. Thus, APHIS decided to use iris scanners to better identify horses.

Q: How much does each scanner cost American taxpayers?
A: The cost is $3,000 per scanner.

Q: Will the use of iris scans result in additional fees for the walking horse industry or to individual competitors?
A: No. There is no cost to horse owners/trainers/owners/riders, and there is no cost passed along to the walking horse industry.

Q: When will APHIS begin using these scanners?
A: APHIS began using iris scanners in March – the beginning of the 2013 horse show season.

Q: Will DQPs be using iris scanners as well?
A: No. Only APHIS will be using these scanners at this time. But the agency certainly encourages horse industry organizations to utilize this technology as well.

Q: Is the use of iris scanners related to the other federal animal identification/traceability program, in which farmers are being asked to register all of their animals with the government?
A: No. This is simply a method of better identifying horses in the agency’s continue efforts to achieve its goal of eliminating the cruel and inhumane practice of soring horses.

For more information contact:

USDA, APHIS Animal Care
4700 River Road, Unit 84
Riverdale, MD 20737
(301) 851-3751
E–mail: hp@aphis.usda.gov


That's it for now.  It's amazing the progress we're seeing in saving the TWH.  BE SURE to tell your Congresspersons about all of this--they need to know all about the facts and see that passing the PAST Act is going to make a huge difference.

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