Famous farm hires ex-con ‘horse whisperer’

Tim Brooks, a graduate of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation's Second Chances program, has gone to work for Steuart Pittman of the Retired Racehorse Project. Pictured with Reds, an OTTB who changed his life.

Tim Brooks, a graduate of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Second Chances program, has gone to work for Steuart Pittman of the Retired Racehorse Project. Pictured with Reds, an OTTB who changed his life.

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.”

Prince Tutta
Barn name: Reds
Sire: Grand Slam
Dam: Queen Tutta
Foal date: May 21, 2003
And 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.”

Tim and Reds pose on graduation day from the TRF's Second  Chances program.

Tim and Reds pose on graduation day from the TRF’s Second Chances program.

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/

18 responses to “Famous farm hires ex-con ‘horse whisperer’”

  1. Cathie

    Blessings to Tim. May the rest of your life be filled with wonderful things.

  2. Sharon M (@SharonJM42)

    Mr. Brooks has such a kind and warm smile. What a wonderful program, one that helps people and animals both.

  3. Sandy Rhodes

    Via NY.- thank you John Hettinger. Enjoyed my short time in your employ. Must be smiling down

  4. christine peniaranda

    Wonderful story. God blessed us all with these.

  5. Victoria

    As with every story that comes out from susan walk’s work, this one is another cherry on top of the sundae. How reaffirming could a story ever be more than this one. Horse and fellow, both struggling to be assimilated and reborn, given a chance with the right tools and surrounded with believers. makes the evening news’ bitter pill easier to take – in this world of so much sadness and disappointment. here is a hopeful sign. Congratulations and carry on Tim, Steuart and all. Thanks.

  6. Susan Crane-Sundell (@sabaahslight)

    Tim couldn’t have found a better place to “land; he is working with a most compassionate and talented horseman. Look like a great fit and here’s hoping that Red finds a new compassionate and understanding compadre. Or else maybe Red could become Tim’s very own OTTB makeover. I can see them competing together-they make quite the handsome duo!

  7. Michelle Y.

    What a wonderful story! Best wishes to Tim in his new career!

  8. David

    I’m a retired law enforcement officer and longtime writer who would love to write this story!

  9. hollihorse

    Horses heal us. We are all broken, and horses fix us in many ways.

  10. Kirstin

    Identical to the movie from a few years back. “BIG SPENDER”. A must watch movie for any horse person!!!!!!

  11. Kirstin

    Just like the movie from a few years back. “BIG SPENDER”. A race horse who doesn’t do well racing is sold found on his death bed, rehabilitated to health and retrained by a con in a program just like this one to be a champion jumper, they sell the horse for a lot of money and the con gets out gets custody of his son and works for the famous trainer with big spender. ! A must watch movie for any horse person!!!!!!

  12. Marilyn Lee-Hannah

    I bet if it is possible, they will find a way, Colmel. We OTTB people are a bit crazy, once a horse gets under our skin, it is very difficult to let go…and we will go to any lengths to keep them near. I hope so too!

    1. colmel

      Marilyn, you are so right. My first horse was an OTTB. After that, we got into the owning/breeding/racing scene. Some of the best times of my life – and some of the hardest. We finally walked away from the “business,” but I’ve never lost my love of the breed and still miss every one of my horses who are now in the permanently blue-grass fields. I know Red is missing Tim, and I’ll just bet Tim feels the same way.

  13. Jen

    This is a hollywood movie born to be made. Someone pen the script, I will go see it with a giant box of kleenex! 🙂

  14. Stephanie Morse

    great story

  15. colmel

    That’s wonderful for Tim, for Steuart, and for the horses at the Retired Racehorse Project, but what about poor Red? I’m sure he misses his buddy. I wonder if there’s any chance of him relocating to be with Tim or if Tim will work with the current inmates to help them see Red for who he truly is.

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