Racehorses teach New York inmates unexpected lessons 30 years on

Wed Jun 18, 2014 10:45am EDT
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By Ellen Wulfhorst

WALLKILL N.Y. (Reuters) - When retired racehorses first arrived at Wallkill Correctional Facility, Jim Tremper expected to teach horsemanship skills to inmates who would be looking for jobs when they were freed.

Three decades later, the horse program hasn't worked out as intended, and Tremper, the farm manager, as well as prison authorities and inmates are pleased with the results.

The program called Second Chances ostensibly teaches horse grooming and feeding, and while few released inmates have taken jobs with horses, its lessons in patience, empathy, overcoming anger and impulsiveness have proven far more valuable, they say.

A project of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, Second Chances marks its 30th anniversary this week at Wallkill, where it began in 1984. It has since expanded to prisons in California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, South Carolina and Virginia.

Noel Jiminez, 34, serving time at Wallkill for assault, said working with the horses is therapeutic.

"It helped me control myself to not be angry with them not understanding me. I knew I had to be patient to have them get along with me," Jiminez said.

Some 400 horses and 400 inmates have gone through the program, which relies on donations, at the medium-security prison about 80 miles (130 km) north of New York City.

Some horses are trained to be gentle enough to be adopted out, while others spend their lives at the prison farm.   Continued...

John Cook, an inmate at the State of New York Wallkill Correctional Facility, stands with a retired thoroughbred on a prison farm in Wallkill, New York June 16, 2014. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton