TRF Second Chances Program- Ocala, Florida

Recently, I had the opportunity to learn more about another TRF Second Chances Program. This off track thoroughbred program (OTTB) is located at the Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala, Florida. Farm Manager, John Evans, runs the program and holds the title of Vocational Teacher of Equine Care Technology for the Florida Department of Corrections. The horses are owned by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.

This program is supported by Florida Department of Corrections at the Lowell Correctional Institution, Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ & Owners’ Association, Florida Thoroughbred Charities, and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.

Currently there are 49 retired thoroughbreds housed in this program, who are overseen by up to eighteen or nineteen of the female inmates at Lowell. The women chosen for this program embark on a yearlong program, which is equivalent to a college course. This program covers all facets of the equine business from business to physiology to injuries and more. The course includes a college textbook and twenty-two tests throughout the course.

In addition to the class and barn work, some of the students receive riding lessons. The riding lessons benefit not only the students but also the horses, as this part of the process to get the horses adopted. 

This program is symbiotic in that it helps both horses and humans. These thoroughbreds, mares and geldings, are able to transition from racetrack to a new career. For the women in the program there is much to be learned. In addition to gathering new skills for a post-institution career, there are many life lessons gained in the program. Each woman is responsible for three horses during her year in the program. This responsibility alone accounts for much personal growth.

This program has housed hundreds of horses. Two of the more famous horses are Forbidden Apple and Hemingway’s Key. Forbidden Apple was a multiple winner of graded stakes, including the Manhattan Handicap in 2001. He also was the 2001 Florida Horse of the Year. Hemingway’s Key who was third in the 2006 Preakness.

Like all OTTB programs that I meet, I look for requests that the organization may have. The Second Chances program has a few bigger item requests, such as a Gator or pasture harrow. Monetary donations are accepted as well. Many of the improvements that have been made at the program are done by the students themselves. For example, John and the students have built a fence to expand this program to the Department of Juvenile Justice, which is located next door to Lowell.