Wild horses get a break; trainer shows how inmates can tame horses

Many domestic 2-year-old colts aren't as gentle as Tonopah, a horse removed from the range just months ago. The little bay moved his ears forward nervously, and kept one wary and curious eye on the crowd of onlookers as his trainer led him around the ring.

But in the end he performed like a veteran through grooming, saddling, exercising, and riding: not bad for a colt that was destroying the panels of his corral in an effort to escape.

Mike Horrigan, horse trainer and employee of the Northern Nevada Correctional Center, donated 30 days to train Tonopah for this debut, but he wasn't just showing off.

The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Prisons have been operating a facility for stray horses removed from the Virginia Range at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center for about 18 months.

Rather than simply hold these untamed animals until they are adopted, these organizations are proposing a program for training and gentling them. It's a move, according to Prison Warden Robin Bates, that could benefit both the inmates and the horses.

"The average owner doesn't have the expertise to handle these animals straight off the range, and the inmates have the time to work with them," Bates said. "These animals will be more adoptable."

The program should be in place by late fall, according to Bates, and would be modeled after similar programs in California, Colorado, Wyoming and Oklahoma.

Beyond the advantages for these animals and their adoptive families, it would provide meaningful work for about 30 inmates.

Ten to 15 inmates from the medium security facility would be working with the animals for 60 days, supervised by a professional trainer.

Fifteen other inmates will be helping with the care of the animals.

The new facility will be located on a 6-acre parcel at the Warm Springs Correctional Center, the medium security prison located at Fifth and Edmonds streets.

"We're hoping this will become a pilot program," Olivia Fiamengo of the Virginia Range Wildlife Protection Association said, noting all stray horses have been adopted up until now.

But with removal of these animals on the rise, the training program will be a real asset to enhancing their adoptability. The Protection Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the welfare of these animals, has raised $6,500 for the project.

"That will buy metal panels for the corrals, and inmates will be providing the labor," Fiamengo said.

Bates said Western Nevada Community College is looking at the idea of a partnership with the prison to establish classes for credit, possibly by the spring or summer of 2001.

The training facility would become a lab supplemented by agricultural college courses at the college under the Division of Applied Science and Technology.

Another possibility is the establishment of a farrier school for these inmates.


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