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Wild Horses And Inmates Expected To Learn Important Lessons From New Jail Program

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

A four-year-old wild horse and long-time trainer Joe Misner get used to their new surroundings at Rio Cosumnes Correctional Facility in Sacramento County.

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

The Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Sacramento County is now the temporary home of 20 wild horses. Inmates at the jail will train them as part of a new program.

A four-year old mare is warming up to Joe Misner as he gently encourages her to follow him around a small corral. "Now you got it," he says. He has been training horses for 30 years. As the ranch manager for the brand-new program at Rio Cosumnes, he is tasked with teaching inmates how to train wild animals.   

"You come with pre-conceived ideas on what you're gonna do and how you're gonna accomplish your goals," he says. "And that wild horse says, 'Ahhh, I don't think so. I think we're gonna do it this way.' As a person, that's where you have to learn how to adapt."

Eight inmates will spend four months training the animals before the horses are  adopted out at auction.

Sheriff Scott Jones says he expects the program to teach inmates vocational skills and life lessons.

"Anecdotally, we've learned from inmates involved in the programs in other jurisdictions they learn humility and sometimes for the first time," says Jones. "They put on a tough facade, but that doesn't work and has no relevance to a horse. And the horse is in charge and they have to be partners in their training. And that partnership values carries with it skills for their entire life."

Sacramento is the first county facility to work with the federal Bureau of Land Management on this type of program. Inmates at six state prisons around the country also train wild horses.

The feds are funding the program and expect it will cost half of what it typically costs to keep and train the animals.