TRF introduces juvenile horse therapy program in Marion County

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Posted February 24, 2021 | By Ben Baugh, Correspondent

Velvet Saulsberry, TRF Second Chances Juvenile Program director, is shown with one of the horses at the Marion County farm. [Submitted]

A new equine program from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation will try to impact young men in a powerful and positive way.

The program officially launched on Tuesday morning and will provide vocational training at a facility next to the TRF’s Second Chances Farm at the Lowell Correctional Institution. The farm is home to several retired racehorses and has served as a therapy and vocational training center for female prisoners at Lowell for years.

Now, the newly launched TRF Second Chances Juvenile Program will work with young men between the ages of 15-18 at the Center of Success and Independence, better known as CSI-Ocala. It is the first juvenile program in the country for TRF.

“We’re so excited to partner with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation to offer a first-of-its-kind vocational training program,” said Josie Tamayo, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice acting secretary. “This partnership provides an opportunity for our youth to gain hands-on training while benefitting from animal-assisted therapy.”

The program will provide youth the opportunity to learn vocational skills that can translate to employment once they return to the community, Tamayo said.

For more than 35 years, the TRF has provided sanctuary at farms across the country for thoroughbred horses that are no longer able to compete on the racetrack. The organization has provided for the welfare of thousands of horses and has done so in partnership with correctional facilities nationwide. The horses serve as teachers in the TRF’s Second Chances program.

It’s hoped the equine program will help transform young peoples’ lives by putting them on the path to success and independence, said Velvet Saulsberry, TRF Second Chances Juvenile Program equine director.

“While in the barn, we stress teamwork, confidence, accountability, confidence and safety,” Saulsberry said.

The program is a learning process, one where the youths find themselves in unique situations out of their comfort zone. Those experiences help them grow.

“As they learn to communicate with the horses, they actually learn to communicate better with each other,” she said.

Those who go through the program, develop ways to deal with unfamiliar situations using different skills.

“They learn about the horses’ health and how to take care of it,” said Saulsberry. “They’re also learning about the appropriate way to approach something bigger than themselves, get outside themselves and change their own demeanor and the way they see the world. We are attempting to heal them, as well at the same time teaching them skills.”

The program will include volunteers from the community with equine experience. One of those is Dr. Alberto Rullan a veterinarian with Performance Equine Veterinary Services.

“This is my dream, and I hope that you will help me realize it,” said Rullan, when referring to the program.

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