The Wild Horse Program Began in 1988
In the fall of 1987 Joe Crofts and Vance Everett, staff members at the Wyoming Honor Farm (WHF), were searching for a horse program to use within the facility. They met Don Glenn with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Mr. Glenn was the Wyoming State Horse “Lead” based out of Cheyenne. Mr. Everett and Mr. Crofts spoke with Mr. Glenn about establishing a horse program in the corrections setting.
Mr. Crofts and Mr. Everett then visited the facility at Canon City, Colorado, and saw that a horse program was a viable option. They approached Don Boyer, the Executive Secretary of the Wyoming Board of Charities & Reform (the umbrella agency at that time for the Wyoming Honor Farm), to ask about implementing a horse program. He told them that if they could get it to work for one year then he would approve the hiring of a horse supervisor. Mr. Crofts was supervising other areas at the WHF but believed that this program was viable. They made the commitment and in the fall of 1987 worked out a cooperative agreement with the BLM.
The first horses arrived on site in February 1988. There was a crew of 8 to 10 inmates that began working with the horses. The first adoption was held in May 1988. The adoptions of 2014 represent 26 years of changes the lives of horses and men.
The Horse Supervisors
At the one-year point, the WHF was able to hire Billy Eppler as Horse Supervisor. Mr. Eppler worked in this capacity until 1995. At that time Mike Buchanan was hired to be the Horse Supervisor. Mr. Buchanan worked as the Horse Supervisor until January 2008 when he retired from the Wyoming Department of Corrections. Jeff Martin replaced Mr. Buchanan in 2008, after moving over from Security, and ran the program until June 2014, when he retired after 25 years with the Wyoming Department of Corrections.
Curt Simmons joined the Wild Horse Program as of September, 2014, having been with the Wyoming Department of Corrections since 1991, and has been with the WDOC for 23 years. Like Jeff, he started working as a correctional officer at the Wyoming State Penitentiary. In 1994, Curt transferred to the Wyoming Honor Farm and worked his way up to Lieutenant. He worked in Security until June of 2014, when Jeff Martin retired. Curt will continue to help the WHF Wild Horse Program grow and prosper in the coming years.
Wyoming Honor Farm – Wild Horse Program Overview
The Wyoming Honor Farm's Wild Horse Training Program, which began in early 1988, plays an important role in inmate rehabilitation as it provides an opportunity to learn how to respect animals and people through day-to-day challenges. Respect is a life skill that many inmates need help developing while incarcerated. Inmates in the Wild Horse Training Program work together as a team and, through this team, they learn to respect the opinions and goals of others.
Inmates working with horses learn that through hard work, respect, communication, and patience even a wild animal will respond in a positive manner. Teamwork and cooperation is crucial for the staff to make the program work. It takes all of the different departments, working together, to make the Wild Horse Program work. We could not make it work, without support from Administration, Security, Case Management, Maintenance, Ag Crews and other work crew areas, as well as support staff.
The Wyoming Honor Farm's Wild Horse Training Program has adopted a training program which staff feels is both beneficial to the horses and the inmate trainers who work with the wild horses. The horses are progressed from round pen work, to halter work, then into the saddle and rider acceptance process. This ensures that the horses are not saddled or ridden before the necessary groundwork has been completed. Also included in the program are techniques similar to those used by Ray Hunt, Bryan Neubert, John Lyons, Pat Parelli, and Clinton Anderson which have proven to be very successful.
When an Honor Farm inmate is assigned a job in the Wild Horse Training Program he begins work on the feed crew or utility crew. His job is to feed the animals or to clean up and work on pen maintenance. During the day he will spend much of his time helping others work with the horses. This gives the inmate an opportunity to observe training techniques as well as become familiar with the animals. When the supervisor feels that the inmate is ready to progress to handling and gentling he will talk to the inmate and start them in the training process with the horses.
The horses start getting desensitized from the beginning through the feeding and pen cleaning process. They also are moved from pen to pen, or worked in the large arena until they can handle some pressure. This is done either by horseback or from the ground. The horses will also get exposed to contact through the chute when being doctored, vaccinated, or identification tags being checked. The horses then are sorted into pens according to age, sex, or training progression. Once it is determined the horse is ready to handle it, they will then start getting sorted out individually during the day, and go through lots of round pen work before being progressed into the halter starting process.
Once a horse has moved on into the halter stage, it is progressed and advanced to more refined halter training. Lot’s of attention is concentrated on getting the horse’s feet handled and the horse willingly going into the horse trailer. It will then be progressed to saddle acceptance, and slowly with baby steps, be transitioned into rider acceptance. Our main focus for the horses is having a solid foundation created by lots of groundwork.
The Honor Farm has 2 adoptions on site a year, (one in the spring, and one in the fall), and a few other satellite adoptions around the state in coordination with other BLM events. Horses are adopted using a competitive bid process, where the highest bidder gets the horse. Bidding starts at $125.00 per horse. The horses are still property of the BLM for one year. After the year is up, the adopter gets a vet or brand inspector to sign an application to verify the animal is healthy, and then the adopter gets clear title for the horse.
On the corrections end of the program, the inmates have to learn to communicate and cooperate with each other to make everything work. As with the horses, inmates have to establish relationships, and maintain them with positive or negative communication. We try to focus more on the positive and stress that this is not just horse training, it is life. If they can apply the lessons learned by working with the horses and each other, they have a lot better chance of becoming productive citizens when they get out. A strong, positive, work ethic is something the Wyoming Honor Farm really tries to instill in the inmates.
Something we strongly believe is that the horses will not lie to you or for you. So in essence, the horse holds the inmate accountable. If one does not gain the trust of the horse, they will not progress. If one try’s to lie, cheat, or sneak with the horse, it will not tolerate it, and the truth will come out. Inmates also get to help take care of something that responds back to them. If you treat the horse and coworkers with dignity and respect, the rewards can be life changing.
As far as the public, We see it as a win-win situation. We have a cooperation with the BLM which helps remove horses from the range, and the public gets to have access to horses that have been gentled in the training program.