Horses helped him prosper after 2 prison stays

Tamio Holmes became a professional farrier after discovering a natural talent at the James River Work Center in Virginia. Pictured with Secretariat's grandson, Covert Action. Debby Thomas Photography

Tamio Holmes became a professional farrier after discovering a natural talent at the James River Work Center in Virginia. Pictured with Secretariat’s grandson, Covert Action. Debby Thomas Photography

A twice-convicted Virginia man who once cried in his cell with despair, found his path to the American Dream—self-respect, love, a thriving business—soon after he seized hold of a beautiful Thoroughbred.

And that horse, a grandson of the great Secretariat, helped the inmate right his own ship and sail toward a better day.

The life transformation began for two-time offender Tamio Holmes of Louisiana the day he stepped up to the horse trailer bearing bay racehorse Covert Action.

The door opened. Covert walked down the ramp. And Holmes stepped up to take hold of the lead rope and walk with the sweet-tempered animal to the red clapboard barn at the James River Work Center. Within its careworn walls, the horse would live a long, healthy retirement, and help to kick-start Holmes’ future as well as the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s (TRF) signature Second Chances program for prisoners and racehorses.

Holmes, in the back, says working with horses turned his life around after prison.

Holmes, in the back, says working with horses turned his life around after prison.

“I remember when somebody first told me they were bringing horses to James River, and I thought, ‘I’m not going to fool with some rich person’s horses while I’m in prison,’ ” Holmes recalls. “But some guys talked me into it … and I went down for an interview” and soon became a founding participant in a pioneering program teaching inmates life skills while participating in vocational training providing care to retired racehorses.

“When the horses first arrived, it was pretty amazing. We were all impatiently waiting … they’d bring one off the trailer and then go around get another,” Holmes says. “I was one of the first ones to step forward, and I grabbed the most amazing horse of all of them. I wound up grabbing Covert Action, the grandson of Secretariat!”

For a young man who grew up in a “beat down little house” in the middle of a backyard Louisiana farm, the proximity to greatness inspired him. “I trained him to follow me around like a dog! If I ran, he ran; if I trotted, he trotted. And he always shook me down looking for peppermints in my pocket. He was an amazing horse!”

Tamio enjoys a moment in time with equines who have helped him find a path in life he never imagined.

Tamio enjoys a moment in time with equines who have helped him find a path in life he never imagined.

After working with Covert Action for a while, a barn farrier began mentoring Holmes in hoof health care. “He said I was a natural,” he says. Holmes studied a $200 textbook a TRF supporter had purchased for him, and practiced trimming and caring for all the horses in the James River Work House herd. “People thought a professional farrier was coming in to do the horses,” he adds.

When Holmes was released from prison in May 2010, after serving three years, he recalls thinking, “You know what Tamio, this is your new career!”

With the help and generosity of Anne Tucker, an original founder of the TRF’s program at James River, Holmes was provided accommodations on Tucker’s Virginia farm until he got on his feet, and was taken under the wing of Dr. Tom Newton, a Goochland, Va. veterinarian and horse breeder.

“Tom got me to come to his farm with him, where I started shoeing his horses,” he says. “After a while, word spread, and other started asking me to shoe their horses.”

Today, Holmes is the proud owner of his own business, Tamio Holmes Farrier, working hard, and preparing to get married later this month.

“Horses made a huge difference for me, and my life,” he says. “By the time I met Covert Action, I’d already been in prison once. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t met up with the horses … when I first got to prison, I didn’t eat and cried every night. After I grabbed Covert Action’s halter … it’s like we crossed a bridge … and I’m so grateful that I thank God for sending me on this path.”

24 responses to “Horses helped him prosper after 2 prison stays”

  1. Donny mele

    So proud of you Tamio . You rock

  2. Penny Corall

    “There’s nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse.”

  3. Wanda

    A animal will do it all the time….but a horse is one of the greatest connections of all. Animals have a second sense about humans. They just know. Congrats..

  4. Glenys McNally

    Wonderful story..Congratulations to Tamio on your success with horses. You take care of a horse, the horse will take care of Y – O- U. I want to extend my congrats and best wishes on your wedding day and marriage.

  5. Scott

    Tamio. You continue to be a role model for others. Thanks for paying it forward! With great respect…

  6. Jon

    Something about the outside of a horse is good for inside of man. I think this is a great example. Well done Tamio.

  7. Polly Bauhan

    Wonderful article. From day one at Barn 4, I knew you would succeed. You have so much talent and are a natural leader. I am so proud of you.

  8. Katie b

    I am proud to say that you are my farrier and we thank you for taking the time to keep our ponies sound, well trimmed and shod. You do an amazing job!

  9. Betsy McDonnell

    Congratulations Tamio!! So wonderful to see how horses have changed and enriched your life. The best thing for the inside of a person is the outside of a horse!! Continued success to you in your life and upcoming marriage. Wishing you all the best!!!

  10. Jeanne LaFontaine

    Love every letter of your story, Tamio. Horses heal. God Bless you on your Second Chance! I am trying to start a program like this in Michigan. inspired! Good Luck and congrats! 💙🐴 💙

  11. Rapunzel

    I am so proud of my friend, my big brother… There is no stopping you… There is nothing but better things for you…. Love u and keep up the keep up the good work…


    Congratulations Tamio! What a marvelous story, and you look so happy in your life. I love the fact that Cover Action would shake you down for peppermints. Horse are equal opportunity partners! TRF is doing very good things.

  13. Anne Tucker

    Tamio does pay it forward, believe me. He has helped so many of the guys with finding a job, furniture, getting a driver’s license, you name it. This man is one of a kind and always grateful for the support from TRF.

    1. Leah

      Anne I am sure he does. Thank you for your huge hand up to help him on his way. I simply love this program and every helper along the way is giving the gift of hope and love. Thabk you so much!!!

  14. debbythomasartphoto

    Congratulations Tamio on your continued success and special congrats on your upcoming wedding!

  15. Geri

    Not only is Tamio a good farrier, he is great at barn management! He works hard and is the nicest person you could ask to have handling your horse. We are all so proud of him and what he has accomplished. He is a real success story on so many levels. Bravo T!!

  16. Ed Carr

    work hard at it a good farrier never has to advertise as my dad was and for a long time after he passed they were still calling for him . Your story is amazing keep up the good work GOD BLESS

  17. Jayne

    What a spectacular story!

  18. Leah Brandon

    Tamio, I have tears in my eyes reading this. Bravo for you stepping forward and opening yourself to new possibilities. And Secretariat’s grandson to boot! Horses have changed many lives but you always had the right path in you….it just took 4 hooves to set you on it. Congratulations and may you pay it forward to the next lost soul.

  19. Always Nell

    Secretariat’s legacy continues in a most special way.

  20. Jan Herrick

    You can see the relationship between Tamio and Covert Action in the horse’s posture. A real bond there.

  21. tbdancer

    Tamio is learning that a good farrier is always going to be a busy farrier. Continued success to this young man. And great pictures, too.

  22. Susan

    Kudos to you Tamio for rising above! Everyone has a gift and God always has a plan to use that gift!…. I love those plans when they involve a horse! Best wishes for a long and happy marriage!

  23. Karen Nelson

    Absolutely makes my heart sing to read this!

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