Eagle County filmmaker to show his movie
The best thing for the inside of a man really is the outside of a horse.The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation is a nationwide horse rescue organization that partners with prisons around the country, teaching prison inmates to train and care for abandoned thoroughbred horses.Asking who is rescuing whom is one of those wonderful questions to which the answer is always, “Yes.””These horses are equine mentors. They help people find things they never knew they were missing. They were missing parts of their soul,” says Vail Valley local John Rainey, the executive producer of “Homestretch.””Homestretch” is screening 6 p.m. Thursday at the Lodge at Cordillera.The film runs 58 minutes, following race horse King’s Honor and two prison inmates. Both inmates in the film were eventually paroled. One took his horse home with him to Kentucky.Rainey says he put King’s Honor on screen because, “he’s just too damned good looking to stay in jail.”Homestretch has been telecast more than 1,300 total hours on 74 percent of PBS stations, Rainey says.”The world is full of documentaries. This one has just been blockbuster,” Rainey says.
“Thousands of race horses come off the track every year and need a place to go,” says Diane Pikulski, CEO of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.They’re rescuing more than horses. Monique Koehler founded the TRF in 1982. Two years later she cut a deal with the State of New York prison system. In exchange for land use and labor at the state’s Walkill Correctional Facility, the TRF would design, staff and maintain a vocational training program in equine care and management for inmates.Promised Road was the TRF’s first retiree, a 9 year old whose undistinguished racing career ended with a sixth-place finish in a $3,500 claiming race. TRF now has thousands like him. The program has grown to more than 1,200 horses in eight correctional facilities around the country, said Dave Joseph, with the TRF.It’s all part of a Second Chance vocational program.”The horses and the inmates, gets a second chance,” Rainey says. “The horses have no one to care for them. As for the inmates, where there was no humanity, they have humanity instilled in them.”
Inmates become part of the Groom Elite program. They learn to be experts in farrier work, detailed horse anatomy, to diagnose basic horse illnesses and a little about what to do about it.”If you don’t teach these people a trade alternative to help them become members of society, they’re going to end up back in jail,” Rainey says. “They know how to do the kinds of things that landed them jail in the first place.”For inmates who complete the program, almost none land back in jail.”We’ve only had one fellow come back in South Carolina out of hundreds of graduates,” Rainey says. “It’s something of which they are very proud. Second Chances is the best vocational program in South Carolina.”Many rescued horses have been trained for second careers, as show jumpers, companion horses, handicapped riding horses, even polo horses.Between 12-20 inmates per prison are with the program. They learn that the hay goes in one end and comes out the other. In between those two extremes is an entire horse that needs constant and consistent care and affection.Chris Huckleby, an inmate in Kentucky, said in a video that the program is great for both horses and trainers.”I can see an accomplishment every day. That means a lot that to both of us,” Huckleby says.A women’s prison in Ocala, Fla., is home to 50 horses. On any given day, 15-18 inmates care for them, doing everything from feeding to mucking out stalls to training and riding.
Rescue missionThe Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s aims to save thoroughbred horses no longer able to compete on the racetrack from possible neglect, abuse and slaughter.The general public seems to assume that thoroughbreds leave the track to graze out their lives in green pastures. It’s not true, Joseph says. Most thoroughbred owners are of modest means and cannot keep horses that don’t earn their keep on the track. Some are neglected, many are killed for their meat at slaughterhouses in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.”The horses help me do the time. We’re alike,” New York inmate Efrain Silva says in a video. “They’re locked up in a paddock at night and we’re locked up in a cell. We look forward to seeing each other in the morning.”