Being accepted by a horse when the rest of the world shuns you. Enjoying a few moments laughing at a Thoroughbred’s antics, while forgetting the hard time already endured and those still ahead for breaking the law. That’s how three recent graduates of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Second Chances Program in Indiana sum up the rewards of learning horsemanship in prison.
George Shuler, Wade Anshutz and James Harrison, who graduated June 8 from the Groom Elite program at the Putnamville Correctional Facilities, were the first three to graduate from the recently redesigned horsemanship program, which teaches a range of skills, from anatomy and conformation to shedrow safety and equipment protocols.
The new grads, all demonstrated skills as great or greater than grooms on the track, according to C. Red McLellan, founder of the national Second Chances program by the TRF.
“Even though some of these men may never have the chance to work at a racetrack because of their prison records, what they’ve learned about taking care of horses is actually more expansive than what racetrack grooms know,” McLellan says. “Because inmates are working with retired racehorses, they learn how to work with horses transitioning from high-intensity athletes to more of a companion athlete. And these guys go a long way to help get these horses get ready.”
And the three graduates who were the latest to graduate the Second Chances program, a national curriculum taught at 10 prisons across the country, all exhibited talent for the work, and great appreciation for their chance.
Asked to describe their most poignant experiences, all three spoke of the one-on-one teaching experience between themselves and the horse.
“My most memorable experience was walking into the pasture to halter the horses by myself, and having the horses gather around me and treat me as one of their own,” says George Schuler, one of the three grads. “The Second Chances program has helped me to be more patient, more observant and has given me the desire to work with horses. I will carry this knowledge and desire with me when I leave prison. This program is something I’ll never forget.”
Fellow graduates Wade Anshutz and James Harrison agree.
Says Anschutz, “I had the opportunity to come to work everyday and stay busy, which kept me from worrying or stressing about things I can’t control on the outside. I don’t have very much time left, so it helped me redevelop my work ethic and get me back into a positive daily routine.”
Harrison says he too leaves the program a better man than when he went in.
“It has given me patience and a sense of accomplishment,” Harrison says. “I have a daughter who is a horse freak so it will give us something to do together.”
Each graduate attended classes and completed hands-on training under the direction of Second Chances Program Coordinator Terri Russ. She couldn’t be more proud.
“These guys have accomplished a lot!” she says. “They came through the door with very little knowledge of horses in general. They all worked extremely hard and each one of them earned that Certificate. For me, being a part of first Groom Elite Graduating Class here at Putnamville has been amazing. It’s been educational and humbling to say the least. I’m proud of them for what they’ve accomplished and it’s feels good knowing I was a part of that.”