The U.S. Virgin Islands Bureau of Corrections has partnered with the Virgin Islands Equestrian Equine Therapy Project Inc. (VIEETP), to provide The Elite Program, a training course in horse care and horse training, to eligible inmates at the Golden Grove Correctional Facility. The goal of the program is to provide job skills and equine assisted therapy to incarcerated men and women, thereby lowering the rate of recidivism and increasing wage-earning opportunities for the inmates upon release.
Horse behavior, anatomy and physiology, first aid, ground training and stable management are part of the basic curriculum preparing successful program participants to work in many positions in the equine business, including as racetrack grooms, farriers, vet techs, and barn managers. All horses in the program will be retired thoroughbred racehorses.
“This is a unique and exciting set of circumstances,” said C. Reid McLellan, executive director of The Elite Program which teaches Groom Elite certification courses to backstretch workers in racing jurisdictions across the mainland United States as well as to inmates in a number of Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation prison-based programs. “We will be able to nurture the strong passion for horses that already exists on the island,” said McLellan.
Carolyn Smith, founder of the Virgin Islands Equestrian Equine Therapy Project Inc., has been involved with horses in the territory her entire life and is thrilled that the program has support from Gov. Albert Bryan Jr., his administration, in particular the Bureau of Corrections, and the horsemen in the V.I.
“We have plans to create a sustainable, thriving equine-centered economy where horses are part of competitive riding programs, training programs for jockeys and backstretch workers, equine therapy programs for disabled people, and equine learning programs in our schools and for at-risk youth,” said Smith. “Thoroughbreds are already beloved on the island, and these programs will help turn that passion towards economic progress for the island.”
The program will begin in the near future on the grounds of the correctional facility where board fencing, a teaching area and shelter will be erected. Not only will the inmate participants be involved in horsemanship training, they will also launch a unique sustainable agricultural project growing peanut hay on the grounds of the correctional facility.
“This program could not have come at a better time,” said Wynnie Testamark, director of the Virgin Islands Bureau of Corrections. “We are in the process of reviewing the strengths and challenges of each of our inmates and this program will provide an effective avenue for success in our increasing concentration on reentry and rehabilitation. I am impressed with the success that the program has had in other U.S. facilities.”
In addition to providing vocational training to incarcerated islanders, The Elite Program will be able to offer programs that will also give local citizens advanced and highly marketable horse care and training skills.
“As the island of St. Croix prepares for horse racing at a recognized level, training for its citizens to work at the track and provide for the horses when their racing careers are over will be necessary,” said Smith. “This program will pave the way for success.”
A public-private partnership has been formed to enhance the success of the community-based program for the Corrections Bureau and community residents. The programs are being organized by the The Virgin Islands Equestrian Equine Therapy Project, Yepsen and PIkulski LLC and in cooperation with the V.I. Bureau of Corrections.
The organizers will be seeking partnerships with foundations, businesses and private individuals who wish to be of assistance. To support this program and for more information, contact Carolyn Smith at 998-3860, Diana Pikulski of Yepsen & Pikulski at 802-233-5377 or the V.I. Bureau of Corrections at https://boc.vi.gov.
The Virgin Islands Equestrian Equine Therapy Project Inc is a non-profit founded and located in the USVI. The Elite Program (www.groomelite.com), Yepsen & Pikulski (www.yepsenandpikulski.com) and the VI Bureau of Corrections (www.boc.vi.gov) have entered into this public-private partnership to bring The Elite Program to the U.S. Virgin Islands.