A former South Carolina inmate who learned horsemanship skills while in prison has so thoroughly turned his life around that he now holds an integral position at a major dressage and hunter/jumper barn in Atlanta.
Christopher Griffin says he owes his second chance at life to the horses who taught him to love and forgive himself, and the opportunities he gained while working with ex-racehorses at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Second Chances Program at the Wateree River Correctional Institution. The national program, which teaches horsemanship skills to upstanding inmates, and in turn provides care to ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds, was a godsend for Griffin.
“When you go to prison you lose all your confidence and trust,” Griffin says. “And these animals speak our language. It’s like they know what you’re feeling and it’s incredible. My favorite horse was Reading Rose. And I worked with her in a round pen. When she finally joined up with me it was like she was telling me she trusted me, and it gave me my confidence back.”
With them, he learned the joy of connecting with a sentient being who exuded peace, and also felt the stab of heartache when an old retiree died of colic. “I spent the night in the barn watching over this one horse. We found him in the morning lying down in his paddock, and I got him up and walked him and walked him while we waited for the vet,” he says. “The vet told us he probably wouldn’t make it, but he gave him an IV and I stayed with him watching over him. His name was Finders Keepers. He wound up dying the next morning” in the company of the inmates who cared for and respected the old cribber with a crooked bottom tooth.
But saying goodbye to the old animal in the morning was bittersweet as Griffin simultaneously was saying goodbye to his old life. The former machine shop worker, who served a total of three years for second-degree burglary, felt the force of love coming from the horses he worked with, as a new purpose arose. Now he would look forward to simple pleasures like opening a barn door and inhaling that sweet, sweet smell, or just turning the ignition in the tractor and working the prison farm.
Over time, Griffin learned horsemanship from the ground up. A man with no previous experience with horses absorbed the new knowledge like a sponge. “I took a six month course, and I studied hard,” he says. “They gave me the keys to the barn, the tractor and the golf cart, and even during lockdowns, I worked.”
He was a model inmate and a natural horseman. He learned to trim hooves, groom, care and feed, and best of all, connect with the Thoroughbreds.
And he attained such a high level of trust at the prison that he had clearance to work unsupervised, on weekends, during lockdowns, and even during attempted prison breaks, says William Cox, chairman of the South Carolina Committee of the TRF’s Wateree River Second Chances Program (SCTRF).
“Chris is a guy who came in as a regular inmate and rose up to be the best and most successful inmate to go through our program,” Cox says. “He has the horsemanship skills, but he also has all the machinery skills, barn management, and even the skills to bandage and triage small injuries, and to recognize when something’s really wrong with a horse, and when it’s appropriate to call the vet.”
And for the past year, Griffin has achieved what a relatively small percentage of ex-inmates have: he has turned his life around.
For the past year he has worked full time at the Highpoint Farm in Atlanta, Ga., a full-service hunter/jumper and dressage barn. He helps manage the care of the multi-barn facility, and travels with the barn as a talented horse show groom.
His employer has been so thrilled with Griffin that he has put out a request for more guys like him, says Cox, who adds, “I’m thrilled to death that it has worked out for Chris. He’s such a good guy and so devoted to what he now knows. Eventually I’d like to bring him back here to talk to my guys, and give them hope.”
Though Griffin can’t say he’s happy he went to jail, he is deeply grateful for the experience, he says.
“I feel blessed,” he says. “I’m not glad I was in prison, but I’m a lot happier with my life. I have more peace and serenity. It’s crazy how horses can change you. They teach you how to love and forgive yourself.”
16 responses to “Ex-con: ‘Horses taught me to love and forgive’”
Hi Chris. What an inspirational story! I’m so glad I read it. I had a few questions about Highpoint Farm, if you don’t mind helping me that would be great. Take care! ~Elizabeth
What a great story and good luck to you Christopher. I’ve had horses my entire life and it is true, they do teach you how to love. That’s why all us (most) horse people are so nice. I have 8 horses and love each one the same. They are like my children. I have recently started taking in Rescue horses because they need love and all I ever wanted to do was save all the horses. My mom use to tell me that I couldn’t save them all but I still try. I can say I’m living my dream Christopher, Horses, feed store and rescues and yet none of it feels like work. Enjoy the horses!!!
Chris, this is the happiest story I’ve read in a long time. I feel you are now using the wonderful gifts God gave you with horses. I’m sorry you fell into a bad way, but now a whole new life opened up for you and the horses you care for. Best wishes, C. Lansing
A remarkable story. God bless you Chris! You have a second chance
at life and a new outlook. Be sure to pass it on to help another.
As you can see, God always has a plan for us no matter what we go
through. The visible and invisible manifestations.
Turning for Home sent ten horses to the TRF in exchange for building a new barn roof at the Walkill Facility in 2008. Reading Rose, Oracle of Omaha, Oh so Suave and Godsaid were four of them. Reading Rose’e records say that she didn’t have a lot of trust in people. I think it is wonderful when programs can put horses and people together in mutually benficial relationships. These programs are wonderful for the inmates as well as the horses that have limited options post racing.
I had the pleasure of meeting Chris when I adopted my horse Spooky Forest. I wish him the best of luck and I’m so happy he’s free and able to use all that he learned.
Thank you all so much. I feel so blessed by God and totally speechless. This is awesome. Horses are so special and i am forever in there debt.
Thank you for our interview. It was a pleasure to learn about Second Chances, and to hear you tell it from your perspective. And I hope your next chapter is filled with good things now, and the horses who benefit so much from your care.
The recidivism rate for inmates who have gone through the Second Chances program is 12 percent, compared to a rate in the high 3 times higher, I was told by Mr. Cox.
It’s such a positive program, I agree. I wish there were more like it.
So great to hear of that win/win situation again. First for the horses, which is to be somewhat expected….but also for the inmate, who usually falls back to his/her former ways. I say this from experience, having served 25 years in law enforcement. Too many of my arrestees had only been out of jail for less than a DAY when they committed another crime and started the vicious cycle over again.
Great story to hear how these horses can turn human lives around!! Congratulations on Chris getting such a prestigious job doing what he now loves!!
Thank you Sue! As always a great read and we, at SCTRF, are very proud of Chris and his life changes.
Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we humans could be as forgiving as horses? Great story!
bless him and the horses, both given a second chance. we need more stories like this one.
Glad to hear this worked out for Chris. Susan, do you have any info on Finders Keepers. That name is so familiar and I wondered what the horse’s history is.
I don’t, but the name is familiar to me. Finders Key (or Finder’s Key) was one of the horses who played Joey in the movie War Horse. I interviewed his trainer way back when.