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New Bill Could Help Illinois Inmates Care For Retired Horses, Learn Skills

By Kalyn Belsha in News on May 17, 2009 6:00PM

Photo by Melody Kramer
When a race horse’s career is over there are few options: euthanize, slaughter or rescue. A new resolution introduced into the Illinois House late last month hopes to do more than save the retired equines -- it hopes to give inmates a chance to learn caretaking skills and compassion for the animals.

Illinois state Rep. Ron Stephens, a Republican from Greenville, teamed up with Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, a nonprofit that rehabilitates old racehorses, to introduce the resolution. They are urging the Illinois Department of Corrections to establish a horse grooming training program for inmates at the Vandalia Correctional Center -- a minimum-security, all-male facility located 85 miles southeast of Springfield. Vandalia now houses about 1,500 inmates, but as a former prison-farm operation it has about 1,520 acres of land, including barns and pastures that could accommodate the animals.

The nonprofit would foot the bill for the new program and says it would benefit not only the horses, but the inmates who could use their skills after their release. Several local farms have said they would be happy to hire the trained former inmates, according to the nonprofit’s press release. Advocates also say the bonding experience could benefit the prisoners psychologically.

“There's something about an animal, particularly a horse, that gives these guys a chance, maybe for the first time in their life, to have empathy,” Stephens, the resolution’s sponsor, told WBBM.

Eight other states already have similar horse-grooming programs in place. [WBBM]