Slycy and inmate – photo credit Dennis Gallegos

Media Contact: Jennifer Stevens, Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation O: (518) 226-0028 ext. 106

COALINGA, CA – On Tuesday, October 27, 2020, 10 student/inmates began a new semester at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Equine Care Program at the Pleasant Valley State Prison (PVSP) at Coalinga, California.  There was no better way to celebrate its one-year anniversary.     

“The four groups that made this happen – the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, the (California) Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, West Hills College and Harris Farms – worked extremely well together,” said Heidi Richards, whose work with the Equine Care Program earned her the CDCR’s 2020 Corrections Officer of the Year Award. “We had 30 student/inmates in the first class, and 28 were certified. We are very excited about how successful the program is.”     

The Equine Care Program at PVSP opened October 16, 2019 and coincided with the prison’s 25th anniversary celebration. The program is an extension of the TRF’s Second Chances/Groom Elite Program that began in 1983 at the Wallkill State Correctional Facility near New Paltz, NY. Former racehorses enjoy a tranquil sanctuary home at Second Chances, which is now offered at prisons in New York, California, Kentucky, Florida, Illinois and South Carolina. In return, the horses provide hands-on vocational instruction in horse care as well as lessons in mutual respect, compassion, responsibility, and trust.     

In collaboration with West Hills College, PVSP’s Equine Care Program is a two-semester course that, at conclusion, not only certifies its participants to work at entry level jobs within the racing industry but gives them six transferable college credits. The program at this minimum-security facility is offered to student/inmates within five years of parole. The fledgling program managed to hold strong despite the turmoil of 2020. 

“Our biggest concern was the pandemic,” said Richards, who also is the West Hills College instructor for the program. “But our COVID-19 numbers were low enough to open the program this semester. Warden Scott Frauenheim and everyone here did a great job in maintaining the program. They kept testing everyone at the gate and, additionally, the staff was tested every 10 days. They were really on top of it.” 

Warden Frauenheim, who will retire on Friday (October 30) after 26 years of state service and the last seven as PVSP’s warden added: “I am proud and honored to have been the first Warden with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to start an Equine Care Program. I am grateful to provide a unique rehabilitative program that helps incarcerated people follow a new path in their lives. Although COVID-19 placed a hold on Pleasant Valley’s Equine Program, Pleasant Valley State Prison has commenced with the program and its college courses. The Pleasant Valley Equine Program just completed its first year of program, and I foresee many more successful years to come.”     

Presently, the student/inmates are working with two former racehorses. Michael the Man, a 13-year-old Kentucky-bred who had 60 races and earned $197,724 from a record of 11-8-9 and California-bred Slycy, who is also 13, earned $230,606 and posted a record of 14-10-7 from 52 starts.     

The horses live on the Equine Care Program’s two-acre facility that student/inmates built and help maintain in addition to their work with the animals.       

A CDCV grant of $300,766 was secured last year with the help of the West Hills Community College District to fund the Equine Care Program at Pleasant Valley State Prison until 2022.     

“It is hard to believe that the program is only a year old with all that Heidi has accomplished,” said TRF Executive Director Pat Stickney. “We are incredibly grateful to all the groups that came together to launch this Equine Care Program which, under Heidi’s leadership, will continue to have such a positive impact on the graduates and the horses for years to come.” 

About TRF:

Founded in 1983, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation is a national organization devoted to saving Thoroughbred horses no longer able to compete at the racetrack 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 TRF Second Chances program, the organization provides incarcerated individuals with vocational training through its accredited equine care and stable management program. At six 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.  TRF cares for more than 500 rescued and retired Thoroughbreds at TRF Second Chances prison farms and Sanctuary Farms across the country.  The organization is funded entirely by private donations.  The TRF is accredited by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and has a Platinum rating with Guide Star. For more information visit: