Prison Horse Blog: Entertainment - violence - profit, emperor's wearing no clothes.

We are about to introduce an equine program to a woman’s low security prison. The prison is our closest neighbor and I plan on riding over there every two weeks to offer an interactive horse experience to the inmates. I will teach them how to approach and touch the horse in an emotional, mental and physical connective way, causing the least amount of stress while promoting a receptive state of being in the horse.

No cell phones or cameras are allowed on the premises, thus in order to accompany my blog with images, I plan on either attempting to portray these sessions myself from memory and/or employ the creative talents of my brother, Jeremy Vaughan, a talented illustrator and photographer, who resides in South East England. To give Jeremy a visual idea of what these prison sessions may look like, I conducted a search online to find appropriate images to send him. While researching, my attention was captured by this photo taken by Gerald Herbert.

I was impressed by the two convicts, riding bareback on top of this beautiful Palomino, with relaxed reins and a soft eye from the horse. In further investigation I came to find out the photo was taken from a biannual Rodeo Event at Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola Prison. Of all American prisons, Angola has the largest number of inmates on life sentences in the United States and is situated on 18,000 acres, previously a slave plantation. It was given the name Angola in reference to where the slaves originated from, a country in Southern Africa. 

As I explored and read more about this annual rodeo I became completely horrified, this event reminds me of the ‘Hunger Games.’ I am NOT a fan of rodeo’s in fact I will be blunt and say I dislike everything about them; the way the animals are handled, goaded, tortured and exploited for profit and entertainment is in itself, I feel, criminal. The promotion of entertainment at the expense of violence, torment and suffering is applied to the inmates who participate for meager prize money and for some, a few seconds of victory. 

The Angola rodeo events are extremely popular and bring in 10’000 spectators. What, I ask, is compelling about watching convicts on death row, placed in extremely dangerous situations at the expense of an animal’s wellbeing, safety and in some cases life? Perhaps it’s the thought ‘they deserve to die anyway so why not make it entertaining?’ I found this photo of a man about to be gored by a bull, from Bettina Hanson’s blog, with the tag ‘yikes’.

On the flip side, I read comments from some of the prisoners, who say the ‘high’ they experience from competing in these gladiator style games is incomparable. In addition, the opportunity to make some prize money, $100-500, and being given the chance to have a moment of glory far outweighs the boredom and monotony of serving a life sentence. Others talk about injuries suffered and fatalities which is hard to find any evidence of, along with the deaths of horses, (the subsequence of injuries) who are forced into submission under the pretext of a domination game.

I was deeply saddened to find out how another prison horse related program at Central Utah Correctional Facility, where prisoners learned to ‘gentle’ wild horses for adoption, was aborted in October of last year because of not being cost effective. Consequently, fifteen hundred horses were given a month to find homes. ( I can’t help but wonder if any of these horses ended up at the Angola Rodeo).

I am in full awareness of how any horse business needs to generate adequate income to cover the overheads of keeping horses and for business owners, like myself, along with employee’s, to have an adequate livelihood. My personal endeavor and current mission in life is to promote kindness and understanding to horses (other animals included) and of course humans, and in doing so making it educationally and financially rewarding.

I look forward to our future prison visits, (sponsored through our non profit affiliate, by a private client) and will keep you posted of our sessions in future blogs. Our visits may not be as extravagant and exhilarating as the prison rodeo’s, yet there is something about facilitating a connection between horses and women inmates I find intriguing and which I suspect, will be of immense consequence to all concerned.