Rehabilitation Program Pairs Prisoners With Horses: “It’s Life Changing.”

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

American prisoners and wild mustangs roaming the Arizona dessert have a lot in common. The most obvious mutual denominator inmates and these untamed beasts share is there are too many of them. There are about five prison programs in the U.S. that bring prisoners and horses together to tame each other and ultimately lower the wild horse populace and out of control prison population.

Over 2 million people in this country are locked-up behind bars — the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Last count as of February 2013, 40,605 wild horses and burros roam the dessert plains once considered “the wild west.”

Both prisoners and wild horses can be tamed and learn new behaviors that can potentially change their lives.  

Arizona State prison in Florence, Arizona has over a dozen inmates taking part in the horse training program. The prisoners and the mustangs evolve from wild to tame — step by step, doing the same thing over and over. The horse makes a wrong choice— the inmate corrects him.

The philosophy behind horse training is wrong thing hard — right thing easy. The wild horse does the wrong thing, the right thing is going to be easier. The prisoner makes a poor choice, takes the wrong action, the right thing is going to be easier. Both man and equine learn from repetition. Prisoners transform themselves while training the horses.

Both horses and inmates have a willful past and are working towards a hopeful future.

Taking something totally untouched and taming it can be a reformative process. If inmates can teach horses to change their behavior, they can teach themselves, too.

Lack of completion is another issue untamed prisoners and horses have in common and can resolve through the program. Each inmate is assigned the horse they will be working with throughout the entire four month program. The horses are trained on a one on one basis, partnered with an inmate committed to the horse from the beginning to the end, when the horse is adopted. The impact of bonding with an animal provides prisoners with a permanent sense of achievement.

Miraculously, the program is so life altering for some of the inmates scheduled to be released that they relinquish their release date to work with their horse longer. Once released, only 15% of the inmates that participate in the rehabilitative program across the country return to prison. Subsequently, the program helps to keep the prison population down.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) runs a program that makes an effort to keep the wild mustang population from spiraling out of control. After 1971 when congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, the (BLM) became responsible for monitoring the emerging wild herd population.  

Managing over 40,000 horses is an expensive challenge. The BLM manages the horses by rounding them up, auctioning them off or adopting them out to ranchers, families, and government agencies, such as the US Border Patrol. The horses need to be trained before they are eligible for adoption.

The program revolves full circle because turning the horses over to the inmates for training is the perfect solution for not only saving money, but it is also rehabilitating for both the wild horses and the untamed prisoners.

The adoption fee of $2,800 is turned back over to managing the prison programs, the lives of both the inmates and horses become more productive, the prison and wild horse population is lowered, and the prisoners and horses are rehabilitated. Everyone benefits from pairing prisoners with wild horses.

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