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TRF Second Chances Graduate Wins Honors at Blacksmith CompetitionThoroughbred Retirement Foundation

He went from prison to blacksmith championship

By Susan Salk on October 6, 2016


Will Wilson is an award-winning blacksmith who got his start with his new career in a prison program taught by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.

A once somewhat shy inmate at the James River Work Center in Virginia, who parlayed skills acquired through the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s prisoner/racehorse Second Chances program, recently took top honors for his farrier skills at the World Championship Blacksmiths competition in Doswell, Va.

Will Wilson, a former inmate whose hard shell softened after he bonded with ex-racehorse Thoroughbred Haps Online, an injured chestnut mare he nursed back to health, has done himself and the entire Second Chances program mighty proud, says Dr. Reid McLellan, curriculum developer of the program that teaches real-world horsemanship and life skills to prisoners, while providing love and care to retired Thoroughbreds.

“As I was giving the final assessment of four prisoners today at a graduation, I told the guys about Will Wilson,” McLellan says. “I told them that here’s a guy who went through the program, who got out of prison and established a positive reputation for himself, and for our program … and that if they really want to work with horses when they get out, and they get a recommendation from this program, they’ll have an opportunity.”

With evident pride, McLellan says William parlayed all the opportunity he could get, even taking on extra tutorials and reading materials, to help him fine-tune a natural talent for hoof trimming and farrier work. And today, McLellan says, Wilson isn’t simply a former-inmate working in society: he’s downright excelling.


William Wilson, with horse, forged a new career while learning the artistry of horse shoeing at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Second Chances program. Photo courtesy Anne Tucker.

“I’m real proud of him,” McLellan says. “The fact that he’s taken the opportunity he had a James River to the level of winning at the World Championship Blacksmiths, well, Will has done an outstanding job.”

Wilson was the overall winner in the novice category and in hind shoeing during the competition held at the Virginia Fair in Doswell, Va., last weekend.

Anne Tucker, cofounder of James River’s TRF Second Chances program says the changes in Wilson from the day he arrived, withdrawn, quiet and shy, to the day he left with squared shoulders and a new lease on life was a remarkable and happy thing to see.

“He left our program for a while to do some other classes at James River, but he came back and became a teaching assistant and farrier. By this point, he had really changed, really matured. He was a much stronger individual,” Tucker says, noting that when Wilson returned to society, it was as a gifted farrier, and a mature contributor to horses and the world.

News of his recent victories fills her heart with joy. “It’s just so wonderful,” she says. “When I first met him, I never would have imagined this. He’s come a long way.”

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