James River Work Center
Imagine a place where people and animals come together to help each other. Horses adjusting to a new life of retirement following a busy career in racing. Prison inmates working to acquire a valuable skill to put them a step ahead when they return to the job market. Both sides with a lot to learn. Both sides with a lot to give. Both sides with a lot to gain.
Such a place exists in Central Virginia at the James River Work Center (JRWC) in Goochland County. In 2007, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and the Virginia Department of Corrections established a public-private partnership to provide rehabilitation and training for offenders, using ex-racehorses.
The horses living at JRWC have acres of rolling grassland, barns and run-in sheds, a horse-knowledgeable supervisor, and a group of carefully selected inmates to care for them. Local professional horsemen and women volunteer their time to help supervise the herd and provide supplemental training for the inmates.
Offenders selected from a pool of applicants are assigned to the program for a specific period of training, during which they care for the horses on a daily basis – leading in and out, mucking stalls, grooming, feeding, doing round-pen work. This hands-on experience is complemented by classroom training in equine nutrition, physiology, tack and stable management. The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation uses the Groom Elite curriculum, developed by Reid McLellan, Ph.D., and taught at racetracks. Graduates become certified and the Foundation assists them upon their release in finding jobs in the horse industry.