Rate My Horse PRO delivered disturbing news today: a Tennessee judge threw out a search warrant in the case of Larry Wheelon, on the grounds of an unconstitutional search.
Larry Wheelon is a Tennessee Walking Horse trainer facing multiple charges of aggravated animal cruelty. Wheelon is accused of soring 19 horses. Now, the case against him might not be able to go forward based on the judge’s ruling.
I’m not saying the judge was wrong. The Fourth Amendment protects people from unconstitutional searches and seizures of their property. Criminal Procedure 101: in order to conduct a search, authorities have to have a valid warrant. According to the judge in Wheelon’s case, a federal agent made some unconstitutional undercover visits to Wheelon’s farm, and there were some credibility issues with the basis for the warrant. As lawyers we talk about having good facts and good law. Here, the prosecutors have good facts but the law seems to favor Wheelon.
Soring horses means deliberately causing pain to the horses’ legs to create an artificial gait. It can be accomplished by applying chemicals to the bottoms of the hooves so that they burn when they touch the ground, or by using physical devices such as pads and chains. Regardless of the method, it is illegal and unethical.
So WHY do we not speak out against soring more? If you read Sidelines magazine, you might have seen the article on Priscilla Presley and her condemnation of soring. Mrs. Presley has worked hard to end soring but she cannot do it alone. The Horse Protection Act of 1970 laid the groundwork for fighting soring, but has not been nearly as effective as one would hope. The HPA is largely unenforced and the penalties it prescribes are minimal. The PAST Act would amend the HPA to improve enforcement and strengthen penalties. It is supported by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Humane Society of the United States, and many more. Add your voice by calling your state representatives in Congress and letting them know that you support the PAST Act and hope for their support when it hits the floor.
Want to know more about the Horse Protection Act and the challenges in fighting soring? Read Kjirsten’s law review article published by the Kentucky Journal of Equine, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Law: “When Cheaters Prosper: A Look at Abusive Horse Industry Practices on the Horse Show Circuit.”