Lorraine Jackson: How prison changed my horse life

Lorraine Jackson reports on a program, now thriving in various facilities across the American West, that pairs inmates with wild horses–one of which Lorraine recently adopted herself.

From Lorraine:

Despite my desires to steal Totilas, I am not in fact a convicted felon on parole. I committed no crime, and in fact, I have never been to a prison at all. But the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison, Utah, did in fact change my life earlier this month. You might say that they did what Craigslist, DreamHorse, and the local want-ads had not convinced me to do in almost three years of earnest searching: They found my horse for me.

Icha awaiting adoption

Icha awaiting adoption

After years of test driving quarter horses, thoroughbreds, andalusians, arabians, and every mix thereof in search of a good fit, I found myself covering a story at the BLM Adoption in Utah and looking right into the eyes of my future money pit. An adoption application and a $350 bid was all it cost for what I biasedly believe is one of the loveliest horses ever created.


Lorraine’s new horse Icha on adoption day

What made this young and darling prospect a remotely feasible option for me was that while most of the horses at the BLM adoption that day were virtually unhandled by people, this 3-year old mare already had more than a year of gentling and six months of riding time, courtesy of the Gunnison Prison Wild Horse and Burro Facility. Even though I have worked with mustangs for more than 10 years, taking on an ungentled project would not have been a sensible option for me. And because of the Prison program, it wasn’t an option I had to face in order to have a mustang.

The program, now thriving in various facilities across the American West, is intended to give inmates stability, potential job skills, and on a less tangible level, a new state of mind. Working with the horses is a privilege, and many of the inmates say that the program doesn’t just encourage good behavior in the short run, but in the long run.

“It teaches me patience and how to just relax and think about what I’m doing,” inmate Ramon Gonzales told Fox News in 2011. Inmates with horse experience will get on a fast track to working with a particular horse, while less experienced guys will learn to work, ride, and gentle the horses from the more savvy inmates.



It’s also a great deal for the federal government. With more than 50,000 wild horses and burros off the range and in government holding facilities, the cost of care, maintenance, and hosting adoptions for gathered horses has eaten away almost 80% of the wild horse and burro program budget each year. By sending wild horses to the prison facilities, the government has saved millions of dollars in free labor and training. They have also found private homes for more than 5,000 wild horses or burros since the program’s inception. The facts have spoken–gentled horses find homes.

James Hershey, inmate and BLM Horse

Inmate James Hersey and a BLM horse

The success stories go on and on and on. But let me give Horse Nation a personal and important detail only you could appreciate: My mare is exceptionally well-trained. And I don’t mean well-trained for being a mustang, or well trained for being three, or well-trained for being saddle broken by prisoners. I mean, well-trained. She is soft in the mouth and sensitive to my leg. She is curious, affectionate, and eager to please. And, despite my scariest joltiest plastic bag performance, she refuses to be frightened of white crinkly objects. Her only fault is that she seems to prefer my non-horse husband over me; I take this as a sign that she misses the men who gave her a new lease on life, as I’m sure that they miss her.

I recently caught up with the Gunnison Prison vet who oversees the health of the horses in the program, and she remembered my mare. She mentioned that the head inmate of the program really loved her, and remarked to her how hopeful he was that she would get a good home.

To that man, thank you for hoping for her. Thank you for helping her. Thank you for helping me.

Icha new life

Icha’s new life

About the Author

Lorraine Jackson grew up on a ranch in central Utah where she had more chores than friends, but having horses made it all worth it. She learned to ride under the great tutelage of her mother, the United States Pony Club, and her local 4H Horse Program Chapter. She took time away from horses to get a degree, go to work, and get married, but now enjoys writing about horses as much as riding them. She recently adopted her new mount, Moriah Itxara (Icha for short!) from the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program. Read more from Lorraine at TheUtahTrotter.com

 Lorraine Jackson Author Photo


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