Three Chimneys presents Good News Friday: Equine Beauties and Second Chances

by | 06.15.2012 | 9:26am

Northwest of Richmond, Va., more than two dozen retired Thoroughbreds live a peaceful life on 1,200 acres of farmland, cared for day and night.

But this is no ordinary horse retirement home.  It is a correctional facility.

The offenders who are sentenced to serve their time at the James River Work Center pay back their debt to society in a unique way – they learn how to take care of horses.

“Most of these men, they haven't had any consistency in their lives.  Most of them haven't had any responsibility,” said Anne Tucker, president of the James River Chapter of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.  “This program has really turned some of these men around.”

James River is part of the TRF's Second Chances program, which pairs criminal offenders with retired Thoroughbreds in the hope of teaching life lessons that will make a difference.

“It's something about the horses,” said Tucker.  “They have a way of touching these men and enabling them to see there's a different way to do things – a better way, a more productive way.”

Offenders at James River learn horse management skills through the intensive Groom Elite program.  Not only does the education qualify them to care for the retired Thoroughbreds at the facility, it also gives them the credentials to seek equine jobs when they are released.

“We have one from our very first group of men who's been out two years now, and he's a farrier,” said Tucker.  “Things like that make you feel really good.”

Last year, in an effort to increase awareness about the program, the James River TRF chapter decided to hold a beauty contest.  Not for the offenders, of course.  For the horses.

“One of our board members had seen this Miss Mustang contest on the Internet and thought, why don't we have a beauty pageant with our horses, and we were like, what?”  Tucker said.  “But the more we thought about it, the more interesting it became.”

The idea caught the attention of nearby racetrack Colonial Downs, and the Miss TRF Pageant was born.  TRF posted photos of several mares on its website, and fans voted online for their favorite.  The top three vote-getters were paraded between races at Colonial Downs on Ladies' Day, and after the crowd voted, Patti's Storm was crowned the first Miss TRF.

“It was a good way to reach racing fans, and oddly enough, that was a group we hadn't really connected with,” said Tucker.  “It got people thinking about Thoroughbred aftercare, and the mares looked really good, which is a testament to the offenders here in the James River Work Center who take care of them.”

The second annual Miss TRF pageant will take place Saturday, June 23 – this time under the lights at Colonial Downs.  Fans can vote for this year's contestants by clicking here.  Online voting will be open until noon on Thursday, June 21.

On Ladies' Night, the three finalists will be paraded in front of the crowd between the early races on the card.  TRF volunteers will collect ballots and tabulate votes from those in attendance.  Trainer Stephanie Nixon and the pony riders at Colonial are providing transportation to the track and care for the Miss TRF contestants while they are at Colonial Downs.   Whole Foods, which distributes carrots to the James River horses throughout the year, will be involved as well.

“The winner will be crowned with a garland of roses and be given a basket of carrots in front of the crowd,” said Tucker.  “It's a big pleaser.”

While last year's event didn't raise a significant amount of money, Tucker said it definitely created awareness about the James River facility, which also retrains and re-homes retired Thoroughbreds.

“We had an unusually good response to our end of the year letter asking for donations.  We have no doubt the pageant played a role in that because it made people aware, and they enjoyed it.”

There are seven contestants in this year's pageant.  There had been eight, but one of the mares had to drop out – for a very good reason.

She was adopted into a new home.


Thanks to the generosity of Three Chimneys Farm, the sponsor of Good News Friday, a donation of $100 will be made in support of the James River Chapter of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.  Three Chimneys will be donating $100 each and every week we bring you a story of people or organizations making a positive difference in our world.

  • Mitch

    It’s definitely a feel-good story, god knows anything positive about this business is a plus. I think the story would have been awesome if the writer had access to one of the prisoners working the program. A quote or two from the innmates would have made this more special.

  • Jock4hire

    Sounds like a great program! Keep up the good work TRF. I agree having some of the inmates speak about this would’ve been nice. Thanks, lj

  • Jamnstv

    It was so very hard to vote-so I went by name!  Good luck to all the Ladies!

  • Sasscer Hill

      James River has a great program! Love the way people are stepping up and protecting the wonderful horses. By random coincidence, I will be signing my mystery novel, “Racing from Death” at Colonial the same night as the James River beauty pageant! Go TRF!

  • Ukdebbo

    What an inspiring story!  Kudos to TRF for this wonderful program.

  • JC

    Oh, great–isn’t it true that, not too long ago when TRF changed director/CEO, he said he was going to do everything he could to expand the Second Chances program?  Is there any progress on that score?  I hope so; I think that’s a great idea.  

  • JC

     Oh, ps–re:  this beauty pageant, how come there’s not a category for “Mr. TRF”?!!  What’s good for the geese should be good for the ganders–or, proper species, what’s good for the mares is good for the stallions/geldings!!!  :-) 

  • Convene

    There used to be (and maybe still is) a program combining inmates and horses – I think it was the prison at Walkill NY – that changed the lives of many, many men. In fact, Blood Horse ran a photo of an inmate and one of the horses. That picture said it all. The horse didn’t care what the guy had done; it just said, “If you love me, I’ll love you back.” The look in the inmates eyes was wonderful. Ray P. may recall that photo; I think he was still at BH at that time. They’ve done it with dogs too. Well, we all know that the bond between animals and people can change lives. Who can connect with a horse and fail to learn to love? I can’t think of any nobler purpose for either animal or human than to help each other along the way!

  • trisha

    Maybe in reply to JC they will consider having  a make beauty pageant also.  The stallions might be a bit more to handle  tho.

  • Trisha

    oops that should be MALE not make

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