Sacramento County is the first in the nation to launch a wild horse program within a local correctional facility. There are similar programs at the federal level but Retired Chief Deputy Milo Fitch is credited for having the vision of bringing the horses to Sacramento. The Sacramento Sheriff’s Wild Horse Program, which launched September 19, is located at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center (RCCC) in rural Elk Grove. The Center is staffed with 180 County employees dedicated to the housing and rehabilitation of inmates.

“As with many of our vocational programs, this program will teach our inmates job skills that they can take with them to the outside world,” said Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones. “But I think in addition to job skills are the unquantifiable, perhaps emotional lessons that inmates are going to gain by being patient, learning humility, and learning how to interact with the horses. Their toughness and where they came from, their stature in life, either inside or out, matters not to the horse and the horse is in control. The inmates will have to come to grips with all of this before they can have a successful training relationship.”

The program was launched in partnership with the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) which not only provides roughly $160,000 a year in funding, but also the wild horses, which are gathered from overpopulated habitats across ten western states. The program launched with 20 horses and can expand quickly as the RCCC has more than 40 acres of land that could be developed for the program. Currently, there are two pastures and several holding pens built and maintained by the inmates.

Joe Misner, the program manager, has a long history of working with wild horses including partnering with the wounded warrior project helping veterans, and he understands first hand, the therapeutic benefit of working with horses. “If you get the opportunity to be the first person to touch a wild horse, or have it follow you, it’ll make the hair on the back of your neck stand up and you’ll get tingles,” said Joe Misner. “It will change you. It’s changed me.”

Inmates apply to participate in the program and must go before a panel review to be approved. If approved, the inmate gets to spend time outside the barb-wire fences that surround the correctional center, working with the horses as they undergo 120 days of being tamed, trained, and prepared for auction. Once trained, the horses will be sold at public auction which will bring money back into the program.

Inmates are expected to build on their values and knowledge, and much like the horses, they’ll learn to change their nature and program leaders are optimistic about the results. Sheriff Scott Jones pointed out that the percentage of inmates participating in this type of program on the federal level is at around 15%.