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TRF horses, inmates grace the silver screen - Thoroughbred Retirement FoundationThoroughbred Retirement Foundation

TRF horses, inmates grace the silver screen

by Susan Salk, Off Track Thoroughbreds

Will Wilson, a former inmate with the James River Work Center in Virginia, shares a moment with Hap’s Online. Today, Wilson is a professional farrier. Photo by Karen Ryan

Will Wilson, a former inmate with the James River Work Center in Virginia, shares a moment with Hap’s Online. Today, Wilson is a professional farrier. Photo by Karen Ryan

A prisoner/horse program that has mended hearts and reshaped lives, and is featured in an independent film narrated by Vanessa Redgrave, will be shown next month in a screening aimed at enlightening viewers to the healing gifts of rescue animals.

The Wound and the Gift, a cinematic creation inspired by a Japanese fable, which depicts trust and relationships with rescue animals, will be screened March 13 at 4 p.m. at the Ashland Theater in Ashland, Va. Tickets are $10, and proceeds benefit the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation at James River.

Directed by Linda Hoaglund and filmed by award winning cinematographer Kirsten Johnson, a portion of the story centers around the misty farmland of the James River Work Center in Virginia, and on the inmates and Thoroughbreds forging bonds through the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s (TRF) Second Chances program.

Inmates who learn to trust and in return earn the respect of ex-racehorses are central to the themes running through the 90 minute film, which asks the thought-provoking question: “Who really rescues who, man or the animal?”

After focusing their lens on the men and horses at James River in November 2013, Hoaglund says she was struck both by the natural beauty of the bucolic countryside, and by the daily interactions between prisoners and the horses.

Will Wilson, second from left, was featured in the 90-minute film The Wound and the Gift.

Will Wilson, second from left, was featured in the 90-minute film The Wound and the Gift.

“The minute I learned about the TRF program I knew I wanted to film there,” Hoaglund says, noting that she was touched to witness the humility in the eyes of prisoners like Will Wilson, who served six years before reentering society and becoming a professional farrier. Wilson, she says, was a joy to film.

“He was so fantastic because he’s living proof that a horse saved a human and changed that person’s life,” Hoaglund says. “You can see the humility and gratefulness in Will’s eyes. That’s something you can’t hire an actor to imitate. He’s living proof” of how rescue animals, in fact, often do the rescuing of humans.

Hoaglund, a native of Japan, was inspired to film animals and humans in myriad “rescue” settings after being captivated by the fable of a rescued crane who weaves a cloth of its own feathers for its rescuers in a thought-provoking story of trust and relationships.

“That ancient fable is woven through the film,” she says, noting that in watching former inmate Will Wilson work so carefully with a one-eye racehorse that she was struck by how man and animal learned to trust and depend on one another.

And from that bond, a new life emerged for Wilson.

Since serving six years in prison, and learning horsemanship skills in the TRF’s Second Chances/Groom Elite program, Wilson went on to become a self-taught farrier with a natural gift for forming the shoe precisely to the horse’s foot.

Linda Hoaglund and Kirsten Johnson filmed at the TRF’s James River in 2013.

Linda Hoaglund and Kirsten Johnson filmed at the TRF’s James River in 2013.

Apprenticing with many well-known Virginian farriers, Wilson started his own successful farrier company a year ago. The horses, he says, taught him patience. And the work inspired him to tap a hidden gift.

“I’ve worked for nine farriers, traveling all around. And I practiced forging and making horseshoes. There’s so much to it. It’s not just foot prep, but learning how to shape the shoe to the foot,” Wilson says, noting that his preference is to work “in the fire” to bend the shoe to the perfect radius.

And in turn, horses have shaped him. “They taught me all about patience. I still have a long way to go. But, they teach you to read them, and to consider them, and that they’ve had hard lives too,” Wilson says. “I’ve learned to read their body language, the ears, muzzle, head, and body position, and to understand what they’re telling me.”

And in working everyday with horses as individual as people, Wilson has learned that there is life and honest work outside the prison walls. And he rises each day eager to gently introduce a six-month-old foal to his first hoof trim, or shaping the perfect shoe for a talented jumper.

The Wound and the Gift shows at 4 p.m., March 13 at the Ashland Theater, 205 England St., Ashland, Va. Tickets are available at the door or online: http://ashlandtheatreva.org/tickets/. Those interested in purchasing the DVD are invited to contact Linda Hoaglund directly at: linda@lhoaglund.com.

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