Program saves retired race horses, creates job skills for inmates

SYKESVILLE, Md. - Retired racehorses and inmates have more in common than you might think.

Both are looking for a second chance in life and they are getting the opportunity to do so at Second Chances Farm in Sykesville.

It's a morning routine the horses, and the inmates, know well at Second Chances Farm.  The horses get to soak up the sun while nibbling grass.  The inmates clean the stalls and fields and prepare for the day ahead.

Judi Coyne, the program coordinator, oversees the men and horses.  She has a long background both with horses and in the correctional services field, so she sees this job as combining her two passions.

"When I think about this program, it gives me goose bumps," she said.

The facility is home to 6 horses, including ones with prestigious blood lines.  Through the work of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, the horses can live out the rest of their days in peace and don't have to worry about heading to a slaughterhouse.

Their caretakers are pre-release inmates from the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.  For six months, the inmates learn everything there is to know about the horses and can become certified groomers.

"This is such a unique program because the horse is the teacher of the groom to become a better person," said Coyne.

James "Jimmy" Clutter is serving time for a burglary charge and has been in jail several times throughout his life.  He applied for the program thinking it was just a job.  

"When I first came out here, I met the cats and the dogs and then the horses.  On that first day, I was hooked."

He's now one of the senior groomers and comes to the farm seven days a week.  He hopes to be able to get a job doing this type of work once he's released.

"It's changed me, changed my outlook on my future," Clutter said.

Kevin Landis also hopes to become a groomer.  He's been behind bars a couple of times and wants to start a career that will make his family proud.

"I really enjoy these horses.  It's something I could see me doing for the rest of my life and passing on to my kids and grandkids," he said.

It's these kinds of transformations Coyne sees everyday on the farm, and it gives her confidence that this program is truly making a difference.

"When they go out from this program, when they get out on the street, I just know they're better people then they were when they came in." 

To find out more about the Second Chances program and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, click here .

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