Lexington prisoners work with horses, learn new skills

Inmate Jason Dukes petted Deference at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation at Blackburn Correctional Complex in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday June 25, 2013. Photo by Tessa Lighty | Staff
Inmate Jason Dukes petted Deference at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation at Blackburn Correctional Complex in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday June 25, 2013. Photo by Tessa Lighty | Staff Herald-Leader

The brown, white and black horses poking their heads out of their stalls in the barn would make any visitor forget they're at a prison.

That's what Anthony Smith, an inmate at Blackburn Correctional Complex, says he likes about the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation's program that allows inmates to work with horses.

"It gets you out of the prison state of mind," said Smith.

Last week, inmates at the state minimum-security prison showcased their new talents and explained the program to people who sponsor horses at the facility, the media and members of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, a group that focuses on taking care of retired racehorses, many of whom are at the end of their lives and not suited to new careers as riding or pleasure horses.

Blackburn, which is on Spurr Road, has several programs that could help inmates get jobs after they are released, including horticulture and classes with Microsoft Excel.

Blackburn's horse program has taught inmates like Smith a lot about themselves. It has given him more patience and tolerance. "Which is going to help when I get out and get home to the kids," he said.

Smith said he's bonded with Sovereign Kit, the horse he takes care of.

"I work with a stallion and I love him to death," he said.

Smith took Kit into a round pen for a demonstration, where the stallion trotted around the circle at Smith's instruction. After that, some of the inmates showed the crowd gathered how they trimmed a horse's hooves.

Kenneth Kee said being in the stable with the horses relaxes him. It also gives Kee a chance to show affection.

"I can come down here and have a friendship with the horses," he said.

Deference, the horse Kee has been working with, was rowdy when he first started working with him. Now, Deference wants Kee to be the one to bathe and brush him.

"We've really formed a bond," Kee said.

Deference stuck his neck far out of his stall while the visitors were in the barn, trying to get their attention so they would pet him and give him treats.

All the inmates have to have a job, and Richard Morrow chose to work with the horses as a chance to get away from the rest of the compound. Now, he loves everything about taking care of them.

"They give me a peace of mind," Morrow said.

Smith said the inmates work seven days a week.

Morrow said he likes spending his time in the barn.

"If I could get a bunk, I'd stay down here with them," Morrow said.

Paul Haney, a former inmate, said he did not know anything about horses, but he wanted to learn. Now, he can do a lot of different things, like training and working horses.

Now that he is out, he plans to adopt a horse.

"I can own a horse and take care of the horse myself," Haney said. "A year and a half ago, there's no way I would even have thought about owning a horse because that'd just be cruel to that animal."

Haney also said that what Linda Dyer, the corrections farm manager, does with the inmates is amazing. He said she has to do everything on the farm, along with the inmates, which includes taking care of the horses and the barn. He said even though the inmates are at the facility as punishment, the barn is a place to forget about that.

"When you come down here, you can leave that punishment for the hours that you're down here," he said.

Haney said when he was in prison and had a particularly bad day, he would come brush the horses, and he'd forget about his problems.

"The horses are wonderful," he said. "They're very therapeutic."

Dyer said the horses teach the inmates responsibility, among other things.

"They teach them compassion," she said. "They teach them that you can't boss around a 1,200 pound horse."

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