A legal battle over custody of two abused Tennessee walking horses is heating up after a state appeals court said it's not willing to return the animals to their purported owners yet.

Neither the state nor the Humane Society want the animals to go back to their owners. The horses were among a group rescued after animal rights activists secretly recorded trainers beating them and poking them with cattle prods.

Tennessee Walking Horse competitions prize the powerful high-step known as the "big lick." The investigation also found that trainers used chemicals on the horses' feet and legs. The pain is believed to make them step higher.

The video helped convict the trainers of abuse.

The owners say they didn't commit the abuse and want the horses back. They're in Humane Society custody.