Program at Lexington prison educates inmates on the equine industry

Program at Lexington prison educates inmates on the equine industry
Published: Apr. 28, 2023 at 4:30 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - It’s estimated that the equine industry accounts for about 60,000 jobs and $6.5 billion annually.

But what happens when the workforce dries up? Where can employers turn?

A program in central Kentucky is working to fill those jobs with people who could use a refuge and sanctuary of their own.

Farm life never sleeps, there’s always work to be done, and chores need to be finished.

“The AG industry, like you said, was traditionally a grow-your-own type of industry, so people grew up in it and then went into it professionally, but that’s just not the case anymore,” said Laurie Mays, the Equine and Agriculture Talent Pipeline Project Manager at the Kentucky Chamber Foundation Workforce Center.

The answer is tucked 14 miles away in a state prison.

A program formed at Blackburn Correctional Complex is educating inmates on the equine industry, taking them through anatomy courses, basic nutrition and first-aid.

“Since then, we’ve kind of put together a program that allows our employers to interview individuals before they’re released. So that they are released from incarceration with a job, basically on day one,” said Mays.

Mays says this brainchild was the collaboration of industry leaders looking to solve a need.

Research shows roughly 300,000 people in the Commonwealth are released from jail each year; however, a third of those freed re-offend.

“There are a lot of concerns, and those are warranted, but be open-minded. There are a lot of facilities that are successfully doing it and have found great value in the individuals that are really benefiting from a professional life in the AG industry,” said Mays. “They want a meaningful career.”

Several other states have similar programs through the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. So where better than the horse capital of the world?

Since the partnership began, 70 graduates have been hired in the equine industry, like Chris Courtney, who was serving a ten-year sentence on drug charges.

Courtney says the transformation has been life-changing.

“A lot of the guys start the program to get out of the cell. But once they get in there, and once these horses start doing what they do, you see the hardest guy turn soft. Soft as cotton,” he said.

Courtney has now been working for two years at Wainui Farms, getting back on his feet and helping horses with theirs. He says this opportunity isn’t one he’s going to waste.

“That’s what this program does. It allows you to be human and teaches you responsibility, and it soothes the soul,” said Courtney.

None of the participants have ended up back in prison since the start of this program.

A program is pairing up former inmates with local farms to give them a fresh start and a new chance in the equine industry.