In thousand-pound Thoroughbreds so formidable yet fragile, was the key to self-knowledge—even a future career —for a prisoner who felt immediate kinship with the intimidating creatures, who like him, were locked up, and maybe a little feared.
Jordan Yox, 24, of Richmond, Va., was a self-described tough guy working out the terms of a prison sentence when he came face to face with himself in the guise of a racehorse who showed him that the two weren’t so different after all.
Both were headstrong, and yet, there was fragility in both, Yox says.
“I didn’t know horses from Adam when I first started working with them, and I was a little scared at first. I mean, here were these thousand-pound animals that can trample you, that can kill you, and yet, they’re so fragile,” he says. “They spent their days locked in a stall or out in a fenced paddock; and, I spent my days in a cell.
We both seem tough, and by society’s standards, my crime defines me, and I was a tough guy. But, I realized the horses and humans are conscious beings who can do so much, but who are really fragile.”
And so, while brushing his three favorites in the herd of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s (TRF) Second Chances program at the James River Work Center, where inmates learn horsemanship skills while caring for ex-racehorses, a new understanding helped Yox turn his life around.
A guy who grew up hard, hung with a rough crowd, and paid his debt to society with a prison term, found his ticket to a righted life awaiting him in a barn smelling of sweet hay, and filled with the sounds of nickers and whinnies.
“By the time I got to the Second Chances program, I thirsted to learn new skills. I was incarcerated for two years before I transferred to James River, and when I heard about the horse program—everyone told me how great it was —I waited four months to get in,” he says. Yox applied himself, soaking in the classroom study of horse anatomy, and the hands-on work with the big, sensitive animals.
“I was completely ignorant of horses before I started. I didn’t know how intelligent they are, or how much in common they have with people who are locked up,” he says. “Everyday was a different experience … I wasn’t expecting these animals to be so nice … or how well they communicate.”
Learning to understand a horse’s moods and whims, Yox honed his skills so well that three days after he was released from prison, he started work at Applegarth Farm, a boarding and lesson facility for show hunters and fox hunters.
Entrusted with the care of the horses and the maintenance of the facility, Yox treats his work as a gift; one that restores his place in society, and among his family and peers, all of who stuck by him during darker days.
“The work signifies to my family and my peers that I did learn my lesson while I was incarcerated and I am trying to better myself,” Yox says, noting that in his off hours he is attending college, studying for a business administration degree. “I made my decisions that led me to (incarceration); I own up to them. But, I’ve learned so much, and this job, which I got because of the horses, allows me to pay for college and pursue my dreams to do even better.”