Taylor Made Pilot Program a Meaningful Answer to Labor Crisis?

Photo of School of Horsemanship participants taken by fellow participant, Mike Lowery


One year ago, Taylor Made Farm launched the Taylor Made School of Horsemanship-a program created to work with people recovering from substance abuse and teach them a new vocation in the Thoroughbred business. The pilot year was such a grand success that plans are now in the works for how the program can grow from here.

The School of Horsemanship was designed by the farm's Vice President Frank Taylor, who now oversees the project along with the program's coordinator Josh Bryan.

“Frank started this because he wanted to help people and there is also a labor shortage in the horse industry, so we thought those kind of went hand in hand,” Bryan explained. “It's really about giving people a second opportunity at life. What we've figured out is that people who are battling alcohol and drug addiction have a great work ethic and they're grateful for the opportunities that they're given. They're very humble, determined and disciplined.”

Bryan said Taylor first got the idea for the project from DV8 Kitchen, a local restaurant in Lexington that created a highly-successful vocational training program for those in the early stages of substance abuse recovery.

The School of Horsemanship, which is paid for by the Kentucky Career Center, was initially created in partnership with the Shepherd's House, a transitional residential drug addiction treatment center in Lexington. During the three-month program, participants return to the Shepherd's House every evening after their work on the farm. In addition to food and housing, they also receive counseling services at the Shepherd's House.

Upon graduation of the program, participants can start a full-time position at Taylor Made or seek work elsewhere if they so choose.

“We've had 20 people go through so far,” Bryan said. “We have nine guys who stayed on at the farm and then we have other guys who have ventured out to other places still working with horses. We've had a few who didn't graduate just because they didn't like it, which is fine. It's not for everybody and you have to have a passion for it, but I've found that people in recovery really like it out here because you can get away from the outside world and horses can be very therapeutic for the soul and the mind. Most people have come to really like it once they get over their timidness of the horse.”

As the program coordinator, Bryan is tasked with instructing all of the trainees–most of whom have never touched a horse before they stepped onto the farm.

“It's a good environment for them to stay relaxed because we usually have them working with maiden and barren mares,” he said. “I'm teaching from the ground up, from picking feet to showing a horse and everything in between. It's about getting them into the routine of working on a farm because it's a lot of hard work. It's very tiring and demanding, and they also have things they've got to do at their sober living house. I'm always making sure everybody's in a good place mentally and physically where they can handle the house and the farm.”

Bryan, who first started working at Taylor Made when he was 18, said he too has battled alcoholism and once lived at the Shepherd's House himself, but he has been clean for almost two years. One year ago Frank Taylor called him to share his idea for the School of Horsemanship and ask if he would be interested in helping get the program off its feet.

“I was a little nervous, but it's been great so far,” Bryan said. “I like that I have the opportunity to help other people who are in the same situation I was once in. It keeps me going on the right path and shows me that from where I started to where I am now, I've come a long way. I'm able to help someone else that is struggling when they can see that I came from that situation and know that you can get over it and you can have a life without drugs and alcohol.”

As the program now looks to expand, Bryan said they have been networking with other local treatment facilities and rehabilitation programs to bring in more participants.

One of many successful School of Horsemanship graduation ceremonies | photo courtesy Taylor Made

“We want it to get big enough to where we can start sending groups of guys to other farms and I'll go out and check on them,” he explained. “We've talked to other big farms and they're on board. We really want to have our own housing out here for everybody, but that's way in the future. Our short-term goal right now is to still work with the Shepherd's House, but also start to branch out a little more.”

While the School of Horsemanship is a definite 'win' for Taylor Made, the program has been a life-changing opportunity for many of its participants.

After completing the three-month program, several participants were asked the following questions: How would you describe yourself and your situation when you were at your worst? How has recovery changed your plans and hopes for the future? What do you feel Taylor Made has done for your recovery? The following is a small excerpt of their written responses.

Will Walden:

“To surmise the week leading up to the Shepherd's House I'll say this: [the words] hopeless and defeated don't begin to explain the state of mind and body that I was in. My daily life was a collage of overdoses…All I wanted to do at that point was overdose and not wake up.

Recovery has actually given me the ability to even consider hope for the future. For the longest time, a drug-induced groundhog day was the only future that seemed possible. Due to this new way of life, which consists of a program of action and an irreplaceable relationship with God, plans and hopes for a future are a series of endless possibilities.

This opportunity with Taylor Made has given me a purpose, which is all I've ever wanted in this life. I am eternally grateful.”

Tyler Maxwell:

“I separated myself from my family, my friends, and most importantly myself. I didn't care about you, I didn't care about me, I didn't care about anything. I was content with wasting my life away.

My recovery has given me a new-found love for not only my life, but the lives of others. It has opened my eyes to a new world filled with joy and peace. I went from being content with living the way I was living to earning an opportunity to pursue a career that I live in the hopes that I can pave the way for others just like me to follow.

I will forever be grateful to Taylor Made. I owe a big part of me being sober for over a year to the farm and the Taylor family. That farm has God all over it and thankfully, I spent eight months of my early sobriety witnessing it on a daily basis. Through hard work and having a sense of accomplishment, at the end of the day Taylor Made paved the way into the man I am today. Those horses and the family environment led me to finding who I truly was. I'll never forget Frank Taylor telling me that Winston Churchill once said, 'There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.' Taylor Made will forever hold a place in my heart.”

Mike Lowery:

“Being homeless at Woodland Park last September until early November, I went through things that I never imagined I would ever go through. I came to the reality that if I kept living the way I was living, I would not be living very long.

Recovery has given me the chance to clear my mind and realize that anything is possible if I set my mind to it. For many years my drug addiction kept me from being the worker that I am today. I am blessed with the opportunity to be a part of the first class of the Taylor Made School of Horsemanship. Not gonna lie, I was really nervous about working with such a large and powerful animal. About two months into the program, I realized how much passion I had for not only these beautiful Thoroughbreds but the horse industry as well.

There is something so spiritual and peaceful about seeing the sunrise while bringing a horse up to the barn. I feel like a good day of hard work is great for people in recovery. For me personally, it gives me a sense of accomplishment. At the end of the day when the barn is all blown out, the stalls are all clean and the horses are looking the best they can look, I can say with pride that I did that.”

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