Border Patrol says inmate-trained horses are ‘a vital asset’

Posted: Nov 29, 2017 9:03 AM
Written By Lupita Murillo, News4 Tucson

Crime Trackers: Part I: Inmates help train horses for Border Patrol

Horses are changing the lives of inmates one day at a time.

Inmates at the Arizona State Prison are training wild mustangs rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management.

Some of the horses are adopted out to the Border Patrol.

Before the sun comes up inmates are hard at work.

“This is Bubba. I named him after Bubba Gump off of Forrest, Forrest Gump. He’s always flapping his lip,” said Anthony Garrison.

Garrison is one of the inmates hand-picked to work in the Arizona Wild Horse Inmate Program.

“They’re just like humans, some are docile some don’t want to be bothered.”

Garrison is serving 11 years for burglary and drug charges. Through the training, he’s picked up life lessons as well.

“It teaches you virtues and morals how you treat your horse is how you should treat other people and treat yourself.”

Justin Balderama is serving a seven-year sentence for aggravated DUI. He’s been in the program two years and is considered one the best trainers.

“This is Pinky. It’s mare, a female horse, she’s got a pink nose she’s got some freckles on her face.

“Pretty Boy: He’s a real handsome horse. He’s got a real nice nose on him and he’s got good hair.”

“This is Sam Kelly, which is Machine Gun Kelly.”

Right now, there are 34 horses the inmates are training. Another 300 are holding.

These are wild mustangs that wander public lands in Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming and California.

It takes about 4 months to train these horses, but some take longer.

The obstacle course tells a great deal about the horse and its trainer. They are able to identify extreme fear in the horses. In that case, they’re not adoptable.

The course also develops trust between the person riding it and the horse and confidence in the trainer.

Richard Kline is serving a 12-year sentence for auto theft, burglary and drugs. On this day he’s saying goodbye to Bear. He and another horse are being adopted out to the Border Patrol.

“Bear was a tough one. “He took a month before you could go in the pen with him he would chase you out.

“It’s good to see them go and actually do something. You put your time and effort into them and they are going to go out and do something productive.”

“When my horses get adopted out I’m happy because to me they’re incarcerated like me,” Balderama said. So when they get released they’re going someplace better.”

He also tells his horses they’re up for parole…and if they get adopted they get paroled. If they don’t . . . “they are stuck with me.”

Randy Helm runs the program. He’s former military, law enforcement, and pastor. His hope for the horse trainers when they leave prison is “for them to have some work ethics skills, some personal skills where they become a productive part of society. And they’re actually benefiting society, rather than a negative.”

Since the program began in 2012, only three inmates have returned to prison.

Crime Trackers: Part II: Border Patrol says inmate-trained horses are ‘a vital asset’

There is a 2,000-mile border along the Southwest United States.

In some areas it’s too treacherous for border patrol agents to enter, that’s where they turn to their four-legged partners for help. Partners who’ve been trained by inmates.

Related story: Crime Trackers: Inmates help train horses for Border Patrol

Geronimo is heading out of the Nogales Border Patrol station, as are Smokey and Tank.

They’re mustangs used by federal agents to patrol the border.

“They’re a vital asset for the Nogales station,” said Border Patrol’s Shawn Rodgers.

That’s because it’s high desert and very mountainous.

“On horseback, we can cover much more ground and much quicker than an agent on foot.”

The horses are wild mustangs that were captured by the Bureau of Land Management and turned over to inmates from around the country to train.

Geronimo was trained at the Arizona State Prison in Florence.

“It makes me feel good. I mean that I did they can take the horses out there and do their job better.”

On this day the horses are out looking for individuals who were seen crossing the border and heading toward Nogales.

“From that fence to the city is less than a mile,” said agent Stephanie Dixon.

You can’t see them from here, but behind me and down by the fence agents are getting assaulted, they’re getting pelted by rocks. This is as far as we are allowed to go.

“They are throwing boulders and we’ve had agents that have suffered really bad injuries from them,” Dixon said.

The horse patrol takes off where sensors and cameras have picked up movement. These might be the same individuals from earlier that were rocking agents.

When the horse patrol heads out, the agents are relying on their four-legged partners to guide them.

“Often, they will alert us to someone hiding in the brush or a threat before we actually know it’s there,” Rodgers said.

An agent using his binoculars catches a glimpse of people hiding in the brush.

“We rode up the side of the hill on horseback found two of them in the brush, attempting to hide from us approximately 50 yards up the side of the ridge.”

Another agent on a horse spots the other two. It turns out some of those arrested are juveniles as well as adults. Also in the group, it’s believed are some are guides.

“He has been apprehended by us before in this area,” Rodgers said.

The individuals who were captured said an agent had driven right by them. But once they saw the horses they knew they had to give up because they know they can’t outrun the horses.

Not far from where the individuals were arrested sits a monument in memory of fallen Border Patrol agent Alexander Kirpnick, who died in the line of duty in 1998.

He was shot and killed by drug smugglers. Agents say this is a reminder of how dangerous their job can be and how why it’s important to keep his memory alive.

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