Program helps inmates find jobs in the horse industry

REMBERT, SC (WIS) - When their racing careers are over, retired race horses are finding homes right here in South Carolina. And the people caring for them have a lot of time to give.

The fields look like the heart of Kentucky horse country. But more than horses are kept behind the fences.

This is the Wateree River Correctional Institution in Rembert, where not only the horses, but the inmates get a second chance.

"It makes me feel like, exactly like what the program's called, you know, I'm giving them a second chance and they're giving me a second chance," says an inmate named Delbert.

Second Chance is the name of the program offered here at the institution's Seabiscuit Stables, named appropriately for the late-blooming misfit race horse who gave Americans a reason to cheer during the Great Depression.

Although we can't show you their faces, we can show you what the inmates have learned through the Groom Elite program. It's taught by renowned Dr. Reid McLellan from Lexington Kentucky.

Inmates learn skills that help them find jobs in the horse industry while preparing retired race horses for adoption. But they say working with the horses helps them learn to deal with people as well.

"You can just determine by how they act with what they want," says Cleo, an inmate.

"It's just like a person."

Jim says, "Learning how to communicate with people and horses, about the same thing."

"You've got to respect them just like you respect people," says Delbert.

And thanks to what Delbert learned through the program, he's training to become a farrier, who works on horse's feet. That saves the state thousands of dollars a year from having to hire the work out.

"They let me get in there and start helping and after a few weeks and after doing it with him a few times, we took over ourselves and we started doing it on then on," he says.

Delbert hopes to return to his home in Kentucky someday and get a job as a farrier.

"I hope to go back and get started in the horse shoeing business."

Hope is what Second Chance is all about--not just for the horses, but the inmates, too.

"It's just like children," says Cleo. "They just want to be loved and petted and just cared for constantly, you know, have a consistent relationship with them. Even though horses may not smile on the outside, I know they feel it on the inside."

The South Carolina Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation helps fund the program and arranges the adoptions.

As for the future of the prisoners, it's better for those who participate in the program. Statewide, the average return rate for South Carolina inmates is 78%. But for those who complete Second Chance, The SC Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation says the return rate is 12%.

"On the outside world, I can probably do the same thing, but with human beings," says Delbert.

The South Carolina Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation is a non-profit group dedicated to saving horses from what could be an uncertain future. It can cost hundreds of dollars a year to care for one horse. Click on the link above to the Foundation's web site for more information or to donate.

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