Training Inmates to Tame Wild Horses

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This is one of those rare win-win situations.

Randy Helm and Chris DeWell both grew up in Arizona, but their paths didn’t cross until recently. Helms grew up on a farm, and horses have been at the center of his life ever since, even as his career evolved from undercover cop to pastor to horse trainer.

As for DeWell? His love for horses is much more recent. A troubled trajectory led to a life on the streets, drugs and decades in and out of trouble with the law. Eventually, he wound up in Florence, Arizona, at the Arizona State Prison Complex, where Helm runs a unique program with horses and introduced DeWell to a vocation that he connected with deeply.

Helm was asked to create and run a Wild Horse Inmate Program for the prison after years training horses for the Bureau of Land Management, a government agency that rounds up wild horses in eight states to ease overpopulation. This program teaches inmates to tame the horses staying here — about 800 wild horses and donkeys, in total. The inmates, in turn, learn to work hard, have patience, and empathize with others. “You’re not even in prison when you come here,” said inmate Lequiza McCollum. “It’s like therapy.”

The program is not a panacea. It does not solve either intractable problems — how best to manage the wild horse population or how to help rehabilitated inmates ease back into society after release. It does, however, help place formerly wild horses into homes. Some are even adopted by the Arizona’s border patrol.

And it’s been life-changing for DeWell.

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