Inmates learn life skills as they prep horses

February 14, 2017
Craig Smith, KGUN 9 News ABC

WHIP Manager Randy Helm

Program director Randy Helm was a police officer, and a pastor before his horse training skills brought him into the training program. He tells inmates just as a mustang will go wild again if returned to a wild herd; they must avoid getting involved with bad company when they’re released.

FLORENCE, Ariz (KGUN9-TV) – In the Old West law enforcement often depended on a good horse.

Even in modern times the Border Patrol depends on horses to get into back country too rough for a vehicle but not too rough for the smugglers and border crossers the agents seek out.

But where the Patrol gets a lot of its horses may surprise you.

Some of their horses were wild mustangs. They once ran free in the American West but the US Bureau of Land Management collected them when their herds grew too large for the land to support them. They will go the Border Patrol, ranchers and maybe trail ride operators but first to go to an Arizona Prison, as prison inmates prepare the horses, and themselves for a new life outside.

“Every one of these horses came out of the wild. So if I relate that to myself I kinda pretty much did too.”

WHIP Leland Jacot

Leland Jacot is serving four years in prison for a weapons violation. He says the patience, love and responsibility he’s learned training horses like Tonto will help him stay out of trouble once he’s released.

He says, “If you’re gonna changes you’ve got to let go of the old ways. You have to accept the new ways.”

We caught program director Randy Helm coaching an inmate on how to handle a horse: “Come right back towards me. Now catch him before he turns…yep, there ya go! Good!”

Randy Helm was a police officer, and a pastor before his skills with wild mustangs led him to head up the program. He says after about four months the mustangs are ready for the Border Patrol, and other riders. But he says if they went back to the wild they’d revert to their old, wild behavior. He warns inmates who’ve worked to control their lives they can revert too.

WHIP training for border patrol He tells them, “If you leave here and you get back with your old herd, short period of time, all the progress you made suddenly gets lost because you revert back to old thinking, old culture and you’re right back where you don’t want to be.”

And he says after four years and 60 inmates, none have been sent back to prison.

Inmate Justin Balderama was telling us about Ginger, the horse he is training.

“’I’m actually teaching her something and we’re learning together you know?”

Justin Balderama had no experience with horses when he joined the program. He’d like to work with horses like Ginger when he gets out but even if he can’t, he feels the program will help him succeed.

“It’s taught me a lot as far as just holding a job, coming to work every day and that’s helped me a lot.”

Everybody’s ahead on this program. Horses like Frostbite here get a good home. The Border Patrol gets a valuable asset and individuals can buy these horses too for about a thousand dollars after adoption fee and training. That’s a much better deal than you’d normally get if you bought a horse any other way.

Craig Smith KGUN

Craig Smith, KGUN 9 News ABC

And when inmates from the program get out, they can adopt one of these horses if they have the means to care for them. When we met Leland Jacot he was headed home soon, and planning to bring Tonto with him.

Combing Tonto he says, “He’s a lifelong commitment but I’m blessed. My children all grew up on horses. They were in gymkhana growing up. They grew up on horses so I’ve got five grandkids who are going to get to ride this guy.”

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