Author: Heidi Richards

The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s (TRF) Equine Care Program at Pleasant Valley State Prison (PVSP) was established on October 16, 2019. Within this program, horses provide hands-on vocational instruction in horse care, as well as lessons in mutual respect, compassion, responsibility, and trust. This year will mark the fourth anniversary, and there is no better way to celebrate this than to commend the graduation.

The Equine Care Program just finished the first part of a two-semester college course offered through West Hills College. There were 18 graduates who successfully completed the class from start to finish. Last semester, there was also another program added by TRF for the minimum-support facility, a 6-week farrier program. In this class, inmate students were trained on how to care for and trim horse hooves, how to pull and remove shoes, and place them on. TRF has graduated 6 students from the program, two of whom have been furthering their education now that they have been paroled. Both men will be attending an 8-week farrier program this spring!

This year, TRF will be running 4 different and exciting farrier classes. Each one will give inmates the tools to parole, plus the ability and drive to want to further their education and skills. Their time in the program will result in wanting a better life as an alternative to their previous one. In the spring, there will be two 8-week courses as well as the West Hills College Groom Elite course.

“This has been an amazing journey, building the equine program with TRF, PVSP, WHC, and
Harris Farms. It has been a true blessing to me as the instructor over this program, having the ability to give back and help rehabilitate the inmates with education, and a skill to parole with in hopes they find jobs, make good decisions, where they can be successful in life, and not reoffend,” said Heidi Richards, a correctional officer and West Hills College instructor.

A student and inmate also shared, “This class has taught me that if a horse can be brought out of stall, educated, and trained to be better, then there is hope for me when I leave my cell or dorm, and when I leave prison. I am like a horse that has been locked up. I need training to have a second chance in life. This program shows me a skill where I can get a job and work. This program gives me hope of a second chance in life.”

PVSP’s Equine Care Program not only certifies participants to work at entry level jobs within the racing industry, but gives them six transferable college credits. Inmates at the minimum-security facility can only take part in the opportunity if they are within five years of parole.

The program is an extension of TRF’s Second Chances with Groom Elite Program Certification. That program began in 1983, along with the founding of TRF, at the Wallkill State Correctional Facility near New Paltz, New York. Since then, former racehorses have enjoyed a tranquil sanctuary at Second Chances, and now at various institutions in New York, California, Kentucky, Florida, Maryland and South Carolina. At eight correctional facilities across the country, this program offers second careers to its horses and a second chance at life for inmates upon release from prison.

The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation is a national organization devoted to saving Thoroughbred horses no longer able to compete at the racetrack. The group saves horses from possible neglect, abuse and slaughter. As the oldest Thoroughbred rescue in the country, the TRF provides sanctuary to retired Thoroughbreds throughout their lifetime. Best known for its pioneering Second Chances Program, they also support incarcerated individuals with vocational training through the accredited Equine Care Program and through the Stable Management Program. Despite the turmoil of COVID-19 these last few years, the fledgling program managed to hold strong.

TRF cares for more than 450 rescued and retired Thoroughbreds at Second Chances prison farms and sanctuary farms across the country. The organization is funded entirely by private donations and is accredited by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. TRF currently has a Platinum rating with Guide Star.