A few hours in the sun and a little fresh air was all a former Maryland inmate hoped for when he signed up for a program that would teach him how to take care of Thoroughbreds.
Tim Brooks certainly had no lofty expectations, not of working among the horsey set, nor becoming the equivalent of the Central Maryland Correctional Facility’s horse whisperer.
But that’s exactly what happened when Brooks started working with moody red ex-racehorse Prince Tutta as part of his horsemanship training offered by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Second Chances program.
Noticing Prince Tutta’s pinned ears and the way the chestnut gelding, a.k.a. Reds, tried to take a bite out of other inmates, Brooks didn’t leap to judge. Instead, he felt his way by instinct, as one misunderstood being to another, and discovered the way into Reds’ heart was, in fact, the way into his own.
“When I first came into the program, I didn’t expect to fall in love with the horses or the work,” Brooks says. “I only signed up (for Second Chances) so I could get out of jail and do something constructive. But as time went on, as I started working with the horses, I started to see myself being in this field.”
Barn name: Reds
Sire: Grand Slam
Dam: Queen Tutta
Foal date: May 21, 2003And earning Reds’ trust along the way, watching the wary animal grow fond of him, made such a strong impression on Brooks that it was with this horse he chose to pose after graduating the program in December 2014. “Everybody would say Reds was a really bad horse; they said he’s a troublemaker,” he says. “But just being able to work with him the way I did, I saw he’s not a bad horse at all, man.”
And Brooks himself transformed right alongside that “troublemaker” horse.
“He started off a bit unsure of the horses. But soon enough I would see him in the stalls, just spending time with a horse, and it looked as if they were healing each other,” says farm manager Judi Coyne. Fighting tears, she adds, “To watch the transformation of an individual who leaves prison with a sense of well being and calmness all because of his interaction with the horses was, for me, incredible.”
Coyne was so impressed with Brooks’ natural horsemanship skills —to this day she frequently calls to ask for tips in handling Reds and his many moods— that she convinced an influential horseman, who has built a reputation giving second chances to Thoroughbreds, to consider hiring Brooks.
As a result, Brooks graduated and went straight to for Steuart Pittman, founder of the Retired Racehorse Project, a program to help Thoroughbred ex-racehorses find new careers.
Working alongside Pittman at Dodon Farm in Maryland, Brooks is learning the ropes of farm life —working with equipment and the horses—in a win-win arrangement that has given him a future he never thought possible.
“Tim truly loves farm life. Having been locked up in a cell, he never wants to go back there, and he doesn’t want to go back to the life that put him there,” Pittman says. “At first, my 80-year-old mother wasn’t thrilled about having someone straight from jail. But all it took was for all of us, sitting down for one family dinner with him, to win her over.
“Good people come from all backgrounds and all places. Tim is good people.”
And for Brooks, his new life on the farm, caring for horses with troubles of their own has surpassed all of his expectations that he had that day he signed up for the TRF’s Second Chances program in prison.
“I look forward to every day now,” Brooks says. “I love it here. And I love the work.”
— Author’s note: If you like this story, you might want to read more about the Second Chances program here: http://www.trfinc.org/trf-second-chances-program/