Crime

Blackburn inmates, officials celebrate equine program's 15th anniversary

Inmate Jeremy Bates gave Kit some attention Thursday during an open house at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation's Second Chances Program at Blackburn Correctional Complex in Lexington. The event marked the 15th anniversary of the program.
Inmate Jeremy Bates gave Kit some attention Thursday during an open house at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation's Second Chances Program at Blackburn Correctional Complex in Lexington. The event marked the 15th anniversary of the program. Lexington Herald-Leader

Bryan Beccia was released from Blackburn Correctional Complex on Oct. 3, 2011.

Beccia, former exercise rider of 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, lost his license in 2006 after being sentenced to 25 years in prison for drug charges related to methamphetamine.

After serving time in multiple Kentucky prisons, Beccia was placed at Blackburn. Shortly after his arrival, he joined the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation's Second Chances Program, which allows inmates to work with horses. He saw it as an opportunity that was twofold: He could focus on turning his life around and work with horses.

"It changed my whole attitude," he said. "It showed my true passion for horses."

The program, which was started in 1999, held an open house Thursday to celebrate its 15th anniversary. Attendees were greeted with an assortment of snacks and beverages and received a tour of the horses' stable that sits on 100 acres.

Inmates at the state minimum-security prison on Spurr Road showcased their talents and explained the program to people who sponsor horses at the facility. Members of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation — a group that takes care of retired racehorses, many of whom are at the end of their lives and not suited to new careers — also were in attendance.

Linda Dyer, manager of the farm, said the program is used to prepare inmates for a life outside of prison. The 12 inmates are taught how to take care of 57 horses from feeding to bandages. There are usually 18 inmates and 75 horses in the program.

The program is six months and upon completion inmates must pass a 300-word test to receive their certificate, she added.

"They take pride in their work," Dyer said. "What I want them to get out of the program is that they need to run their lives better. If not, they are wasting it."

Beccia considers himself to be a product of the program's success.

Six months after his release, Beccia filed for his license to be reinstated with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. It was, and he thinks his time in the program played a role in getting him back in the saddle.

"This gives people a second chance," said Becca, who exercised this year's Preakness runner-up, Ride On Curlin. "If you've got horse knowledge, you can get a job."

Derwood Thomas, who was walking Frightful around the grounds Thursday, didn't have prior experience with horses. But his work in the program — about three months — has made him love them. "He's like a child," he said. "You have to know how to take care of them and feed them ... If I had the money I'd take him home with me."

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