Inmates are learning to care for large animals through a unique program on the grounds of the Okanagan Correctional Centre (OCC) near Oliver.
Through a partnership with the Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB), trained handlers are on hand each morning to guide up to six participating inmates in the care, feeding, grooming and washing of two horses: Roanie, a red-roan, nine-year-old mustang, and Gypsy, a gold-brown, 18-year-old quarter mustang.
While participants won’t be riding the range, the horse program is designed to put them back in the saddle with new job skills when they’re released from custody. In addition to gaining experience caring for large animals, participating inmates commit to a daily routine and learn accountability.
“This program represents another great partnership with the Osoyoos Indian Band, on whose land the Okanagan Correctional Centre stands,” said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. “Working with horses has been proven to help people overcome mental-health issues, trauma and other challenges, and this program is designed to foster a love of this work that may continue post-release.”
Recently, the program invited a number of inmates with more complex needs to learn new skills and spend time with the horses for therapeutic purposes. Horses have long been used to help enhance emotional, behavioural and cognitive skills for people who have experienced trauma and the hope is this program will provide a calming, holistic environment.
To prepare for the horses, a team of inmates built a three-stall barn with three distinct corrals to maximize access to free range. Inmates took great care to minimize the disturbance of the natural landscape, including bushes and shrubs.
Robert Stelkia, Osoyoos Indian Band Horse Program leader, said, “To date, inmates who have been involved in the horse program have reported feeling a greater sense of connection and have said taking part in the program has helped them to better appreciate Indigenous culture, the importance of nature and the power of reflection in order to make more positive decisions in the future.”
The program will make an effort to incorporate wild horses as it becomes more established. The OIB trainers will also provide inmates with information on the historical relationship and importance of horses to local First Nations and Indigenous culture.
“This horse program is a great example of how a little can go a long way,” said Steve DiCastri, Okanagan Correctional Centre warden. “For under $40,000, we have been able to establish a unique partnership with the Osoyoos Indian Band that we are incredibly grateful for. I believe working with horses has the power to really help some of the men in our care, and I am thrilled to see this program up and running.”