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Equine Therapy: Prison Inmate Programs

equine therapy in prisonsWhile there may be some people who believe that inmates cannot, or should not be rehabilitated, returning them back to civilian life in a productive way is actually the original purpose of our prisons. Yet just how, may still evade us. So it may be surprising then that some prison programs have turned to equine therapy to do just that — rehabilitate inmates. And, perhaps not so surprisingly, it has been quite effective. Lets take a look at some of the benefits. 



Calming Effect:

  • Working around the horses had a calming effect. It has been reported that after working with retired Thoroughbred racehorses, kids, age 14-17 demonstrated increased patience, understanding, and ability to bond.(Pedulla, 2001, p. C3).


Increased Sense of Responsibility:


  • In November 1999, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Foundation (KTRF) opened their Blackburn Operation, a correctional facility in Lexington, Kentucky. With the urging of Governor Paul Patton, the Department of Corrections decided to start a program there (Blowen, 2001, p. A1). Each inmate was expected to work 7 days a week looking after four or five horses and making $2 a day. Jeff Oliver, a long-time correctional employee and the farm manager, said that some prisoners in this group reported that “never in their life had anyone or anything been dependent upon them and now they do” (Adams, 2001, p. 32).


Improved Respect for Others:


  • Inmate Scott Williams said, “Horses demand respect and through them I’ve learned respect for life. Some horses we got were on their way to the killers. You never can do enough for them. ”Williams sees the horse farm at Blackburn as a vocational school to learn equine care. Few people would describe prison as a positive experience but Williams feels Blackburn has taught him vocational skills and has changed him for the better (Adams, 2001, p. 35).


Decreased Tension Between Inmates:


  • According to Mike Buchanan, director of the horse program at Wild Horse Farm, there is very little tension among the men on the farm. BLM is very happy because with the money they save and the expert training the horses receive, they are more readily adoptable.  (http://doc.state.



Reduced Recidivism:


  • The Stay’n Out program indicated that after completing the program only 26.9% of inmates were arrested again, I believe that this would also be true of this wild horse program (Schneider et al 2012).
  • In private communication with Robert Kent, superintendent of the Sanger B. Powers Correctional Center in Oneida, Wisconsin, he said, “Since our dog training program started in 1997, we’ve had 68 inmates released who were involved in the program and not one has reoffended and returned to prison.” (Strimple, 2003).



While the results alone may turn people into believers of equine therapy — after all if horses can rehabilitate inmates, just imagine what they can do for everyday people — the best part of these programs is that almost all of them work with either rescued horses, retired racehorses, or wild BLM mustangs, and therefore are also for the good of the horse.




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Bustad (Ed.), Compassion, our last great hope (pp. 72-73).


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effect on adjudicated violent, incarcerated male juveniles age 12-25 in the state of Oregon.

Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Pepperdine University.


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bars. Journal Offender Rehabilitation, 16(3/4), 133-152. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections(ODRC). (2000). AnnualreportDRCdog/puppy program.


Columbus: Author. Pedulla, T. (2001, October 2001). Inmates get a helping hoof. USA Today, p. C3. Suber, W. (2002, February). Prisoner community service. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and

Corrections. Retrieved online from


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Available online from Zaidlicz, R. (1988, September). A prison horse program. Orlando, FL: Delta Society Annual

Prison photo available from Shutterstock

Equine Therapy: Prison Inmate Programs

Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT

Claire Dorotik-Nana LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in post-traumatic growth, leveraging adversity, and other epic human achievements. Claire has written multiple continuing education courses for Professional Development Resources, Zur Institute, and International Sport Science Association. Claire has also authored multiple books, including:
Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards and On The Back Of A Horse: Harnessing The Healing Power Of The Human-Equine Bond. For more information about Leveraging Adversity or Claire, visit

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APA Reference
Dorotik-Nana, C. (2012). Equine Therapy: Prison Inmate Programs. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 18, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Oct 2012
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