Arizona Inmates Are Forever Changed by Wild Horse Rehabilitation Program

Posted by Tori Holmes
inmates with wild horses
Photos via Pat Shannahan/ The Arizona Republic

Meet Randy Helm, the cowboy who is helping inmates build relationships with wild horses.

Randy Helm grew up on a ranch where he first began working with cattle and horses. He eventually left the ranch for a job in the Air Force and later in law enforcement, but he always came back to the horses. In 1993, Helm trained his first wild horse and was immediately hooked. In the years since, he has become a self-trained horse whisperer, helping to communicate and train wild horses.

Helm's background in law enforcement paired with his deep connection with horses inspired him to launch the Wild Horse Inmate Program at the state prison in Florence, Arizona.

Man with horse

With this program, which is run within the prison walls, inmates have the opportunity to complete their work duty by taming and training wild horses.

The program is a partnership between the Arizona Department of Corrections and the Bureau of Land Management, with the Bureau capturing overpopulated horses and and them bringing them to the prison facility where Helm and his team of inmates begin their work. While the program was initially created as an inmate work program, it has proven to be extremely beneficial to help the wild horses get adopted as well.

Inmates learn skills through the program that are practical in the real world, with many eventually finding jobs working with horses. For many of the inmates, working with the horses also allows them to see a project through from start to finish, something many of them have never experienced before. The opportunity to spend time with the horses also shows them how to be patient, loving, caring, and trusting - things that many inmates struggle with.

What's more is that since the program's conception in 2013, there has been a zero percent recidivism rate with the inmates who were involved. This is an impressive figure when compared to the national recidivism rate which shows that nearly two-thirds of released inmates are arrested again within three years.

The inmates aren't the only ones who benefit from this program, however. Annually, around 150 horses who go through the program are adopted. While some are adopted out to families, many of the horses join the U.S. Border Patrol to aid officers in navigating the difficult Arizona-Mexico border terrain.

To learn more about the Wild Horse Inmate Program, you can visit their website.

Photos via Pat Shannahan/ The Arizona Republic

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Arizona Inmates Are Forever Changed by Wild Horse Rehabilitation Program