By Francis LaBelle

Julianne Stowell recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of her release from the Lowell Correctional Institution near Ocala. A graduate of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Second Chances Program and it’s latest success story, “Jules” has become the Client Relations Manager for Niall Brennan Stable.

“I got to know Jules during the (Second Chances) program and she gave me the tour,” said Stephanie Brennan, Director of Sales and Marketing for the successful Thoroughbred business she runs with her husband. “She told me that this (prison) was her reality and this is what she faced every day. That really stuck with me, and I was glad to see that she was in Second Chances and working with horses. I got to know her. She is very bright and well-spoken. She has such a presence about her. I thought she would be a good fit here and that is just what she is.”

Jules had a lot going for her early on. She had a supportive family and had gone to college with hopes of becoming a nurse, and eventually a doctor. Sadly, by her own admission, a poor choice of friends led to bad decisions and, finally, her arrest in 2017 for parole violation from a slew of charges.

“On paper, I look like a real piece of you-know-what,” Jules said. “When I first went into prison, it was hard for me. In prison, you have no identity. You are just a number. I didn’t want to just sit there and rot. I wanted to set myself up for when I got out.”

“When you first go into Lowell, you can see the horses and they caught my eyes immediately. I began asking questions and came to learn about the equine program. I knew I had to find a way to get over there. It didn’t happen instantly. It took me two and a half years to get into the program and I was in the program for a little more than two years.”

While waiting to enter Second Chances, she stayed busy. During the first three years of her sentence, Jules joined Women Offering Obedience and Friendship (WOOF), Lowell’s two-part program where the women first learn basic training to teach obedience to shelter dogs. She then learned to train Patriot Service Dogs for injured veterans. Jules not only became certified in both parts of her WOOF training, she also became certified as a paralegal. It was the two years spent in the TRF’s Second Chances Program, however, that led to her present job.

“I always found myself drawn to and wanting to work with the ‘difficult’ horses,” Jules remembered. “I thought they were just misunderstood, just like many of us women who find ourselves out on the Second Chances farm. TRF recently posted a photo of Classic Campaign on Facebook being groomed outside of the barn. That’s because he was a victim of a barn fire and has severe anxiety being away from the herd and being in the barn or stall. He also only has one eye. I would take daily walks with him around the farm. I was able to bring him in and stall him for a short period of time and would bring his pasture mate – or as we would call him ‘his emotional support animal’ Bob (Our Smith Bob).”

“Another horse that I worked with was Mr. Angel. He was trying to protect a mare and foal and ended up hospitalizing his owner Karla Wolfson. While at TRF, he had a fly larva embedded in his eye that had to be surgically removed, so he was super head shy. He had terrible feet and would not want to stand for a farrier or be stalled for long. So, you had to be patient.”

According to Jules, Shake You Down, one of the favorites at Lowell, could be temperamental, but it was discovered that he was side sensitive and needed extra care. And then, there was Coded Kisses, who was brought to Lowell after she was found abandoned and neglected.

“She was extremely malnourished,” Jules shared. “Her tail was so matted we had to cut it off. She also had some serious injuries. She wanted nothing to do with people or being caught and was quite the handful in the beginning. But all that she needed was a little compassion, kindness, and patience.”

Jules clearly made a connection with the horses in her care, but when she had a chance to enter a work release program she saw it as a fast way to escape prison.

“I was on work release for a year and Stephanie tried to talk me out of it,” Jules stated. “I understand now where she was coming from. She didn’t want me to take any job because she was afraid that I might get stuck in a dead-end job and forget all about the horses. But when you are in prison, work release is one step closer to freedom. And I really wanted that.”

Jules worked in a bagel shop and also in a plastic factory that made everything from medical supplies to marine equipment. Compared to working outdoors with horses, those jobs proved boring.

At the time, John Evans was still the farm manager for Lowell’s Second Chances Program. Evans had previously worn many hats in the Thoroughbred racing industry, including racing steward and farm manager. Since then, he had maintained certain contacts, which led to Evans telling Jules about a potential job opportunity.

“I had my heart set on that job,” Jules said. “A person who had sponsored one of the TRF horses at Lowell was working for the state at a veterinary clinic and needed someone. By the time I got to it, however, the job was filled.”

“I was disappointed, but it worked out for me. Two weeks before my release, Stephanie showed up and brought me here.”

That was April 12, 2023, the same day that Evans retired.

“There are many things I learned from Mr. Evans, but the thing that stands out and is ingrained in my head is when we would need help trying to figure something out, he would have the answer, but would want us to figure it out on our own. He always gave us the freedom to think outside of the box and problem solve. His famous words would be ‘Look at the manual.’”

“He taught us how to work things out and work together, to get along, and to be honest wholesome individuals. Most importantly, he taught me how to deal with people on a professional and a teaching level. He taught me to be honest, hardworking, to apply myself, and to think outside of the box.”

She put Evans’ lessons into practice and since then, has sparkled.

In addition to showing horses to Brennans’ clients and taking videos and photos of the horses, Jules oversees the maintenance on the farm and organizes the morning set list for training. She is even trusted to administer non-invasive therapies like magna and laser, which use electromagnetic and light sources, respectively, to relieve inflammation in horses.

“Steph likes to call me Niall’s personal assistant,” Jules laughed. “We have a great group of people that work here, so I go wherever they think I’m needed.”

Fifteen years ago, the Brennans founded their own non-profit Thoroughbred aftercare program called Final Furlong Horse Rescue, which finds new homes for its stable graduates when they are done racing. Now, Jules adds to the stable’s reputation of helping humans and horses get second chances.

In 2022, Stephanie joined the TRF Board of Directors and helped in the development of the Second Chances Program at Lowell. Lauren Vanucci, a Lowell Second Chances graduate who Jules succeeded at Brennan Stable, vacated that position to run her own business, Figure 8 Media, last year.

“The biggest difference between Jules and Lauren is that Lauren had ridden before and even wanted to be a jockey,” Stephanie shared. “Jules came to us here right during (horse) sales season and there was a huge amount for her to process. She had never been in a barn with 50 people on the payroll, a lot of horses, and a lot going on. She was thrown right into it and she did very well.”

“She has learned to manage maintenance here, drive the tractor, meet with all the clients, manage the website and even ride some of the ponies.”

“What’s unique about Jules is that everybody loves her.”