By Diana Pikulski
The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) farm at the Lowell Correctional Center, now in its 19th year, is the third in sequence of the TRF's Second Chances Programs, which pairs retired racehorses with incarcerated men and women.
It was launched in partnership with the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association which continues to fund the program through Florida Thoroughbred Charities. At the 100-acre farm which houses between 45- 50 horses, incarcerated women are assigned to the farm five to seven days per week to care for the horses, perform all of the farm maintenance and upkeep, and attend classes in a rigorous vocational training program. In the program they learn not only the basics of horse husbandry but also the specifics of caring for racehorses. Their teacher, John Evans, is a veteran Thoroughbred horse farm manager and trainer. In 2016, he received the Thoroughbred Charities of America Award of Merit for his work at the prison-based farm.
Last week, the program lost its most famous and well-loved resident with the passing of Carterista (Dr. Carter) at the age of 30. When Carterista retired to the prison farm in Marion County 19 years ago, he had earned more than $750,000 in 102 starts with 27 career wins. He had a reputation of being difficult to handle and not very friendly. That he would become a model horse for the inmates' vocational training program seems counter-intuitive. In fact, he very quickly became the model teacher and go-to horse for new inmates with no horse experience. When he died last week, the women who cared for him were deeply affected.
“He was a proud, easy going horse here at the farm,” said Evans. “He was kind and patient and our go-to horse for new students with no experience. We were thankful that he showed no signs of distress or discomfort when we found him in the field that morning. We all miss him dearly.”
“We all learned how to pick feet on Carter because he was so nice about it,” said Lorrey Richard, an inmate student who will be released from prison in the next month after close to five years in the program. “I've now cared for horses of every age and every personality type. Carter was super special to us because he was so respectful of everyone.”
Rebecca Kerns was the inmate student at Lowell who had been Carterista's main caretaker for more than a year when he passed away last week. She sent me this short essay on what he meant to her:
'Racehorse coming through'– these are the very words I would say when announcing Carter's arrival in the shedrow every morning. Like clockwork, Carter would be at the gate of his paddock waiting for me to bring him in for breakfast. What a wonderful feeling knowing that this horse would be anxiously waiting for me. To walk him into the barn and have him carrying himself with dignity and pride and setting the precedent for other horses was a real honor for me.
I once read in a book that a 30-year-old horse is the equivalent to an 86-year-old man. That is why Carter could have whatever he wanted including spa days, lots of care and grooming, and all the delicious clover he could eat. I loved Carter and made sure he was well cared for.
Upon entering the Equine Program, I was apprehensive about horses. Sure, I rode at the fair when I was little and I petted the horses. But I never cared for a horse.
Carter gave me confidence and reassured me that I was okay. Carter showed me unconditional love and changed my heart forever. So, just as he eager as he was for me, I was equally eager to see him. Carter showed me that love has no limits and that I am worthy of being loved. And just like he assured me, I assured him every day that he was the greatest racehorse that ever lived.”
'Racehorse coming through' is what I expect was heard when he passed on to wherever racehorses go.
Diana Pikulski is a partner in Yepsen & Pikulski and the editor of the Thoroughbred Adoption Network.
For more information about the Lowell Correctional Facility program, go to www.trfinc.org or www.ftboa.com or call John Evans at 352-895-9845.