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Four Inmates Graduate from Second Chances Farm Groom Elite Program in Sykesville
TOWSON, MD (February 28, 2014)-Four more inmates reached a milestone today at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) Second Chances Farm in Sykesville. The men graduated with Groom Elite certificates after successfully completing the equine training and classroom programs.
Second Chances is one of only nine inmate-tended Thoroughbred retirement farms in the nation. The unique partnership exists thanks to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, which supplies Second Chances with horses that are past their racing prime- horses facing an uncertain future that may have included a trip to the slaughterhouse but for this intervention by DPSCS.
Nineteen inmates have graduated since Second Chances Farm opened in 2009. Inmates rebuilt the dilapidated barn and fenced and pastured the fields on the long-abandoned piece of state property, which today is a beautiful showpiece that gives a second chance to man and beast.
“The Groom Elite program provides a tremendous opportunity for specially selected offenders to learn every aspect of equine care,” said Program Director Judi Coyne. “They are not just shoveling out stalls and filling feed bags.”
The Groom Elite course consists of six months of intensive classroom instruction, as well as daily hands-on experience for each student. The curriculum, which is used nationally in schools and at professional tracks, teaches veterinary tactics, how to groom and maintain the horses, and the nuances of a horse's anatomy - everything from a horse’s digestive tract to hoof health.
But perhaps equally important are the “soft” skills like patience that the inmates learn. “This thousand-pound horse has taught me,” says one graduate, “that I need to take better care of my elderly father. That’s been a tremendous wake-up call for me, and I learned it here on this farm.”
Once released from incarceration, the students can pursue related careers in the horse industry. The program also provides assistance to graduates in finding employment at horse farms, training facilities, etc.
A typical day for the pre-release level inmates begins early, with fieldwork, trough-cleaning, and horse grooming. This is followed by classroom instruction following the Groom Elite curriculum, and practical skills and lessons. The men then spend more hands-on time grooming and feeding the horses and finish their chores before returning to the nearby Central Maryland Correctional Facility, on whose property the beautiful rolling pastures of the horse farm are located.
“Men who complete this program will see they have a chance to succeed in life as opposed to getting out and coming back," said an inmate graduate named Cornell, who hopes work at a farm somewhere after being released. "I'm not coming back to jail."
As proof and encouragement that success from the program is indeed possible, Eddie Rybolt, Second Chances’ very first graduate, returns to the farm on occasion---including this month--- to encourage the inmates and let them see that success after prison is possible. Mr. Rybolt is a successful businessman with a home and family who beat an addiction and credits Second Chances with turning his life around.