Horse program at Okanagan jail therapeutic

Osoyoos Band members are helping inmates heal by teaching them how to care for horses

Horses are helping inmates at Okanagan Correctional Centre near Oliver overcome mental-health issues and trauma.

The program was being touted by Osoyoos Indian Band Chief Clarence Louie as an opportunity for “healing” before the doors of the OCC even opened and has since become a reality.

RELATED: Osoyoos chief says correctional centre will bring opportunity

In the program, experts from the Osoyoos Indian Band and inmates work together to care for two horses. The inmates are tasked with helping to feed, groom and wash the horses.

Trained horse-handlers from the OIB go to the prison each morning to guide up to six participants in caring for Roanie, a nine-year-old, red-roan, mustang and Gypsy, a golden brown, 18-year-old mustang.

“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.”

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To prepare for the horses, a team of inmates built a three-stall barn with three distinct corrals. The hope is that one day wild horses can be incorporated in the program as it becomes more established. OIB trainers provide inmates with information on the historical relationship and importance of horses to local First Nations and Indigenous culture.

“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,” said Robert Stelkia, Osoyoos Indian Band Horse Program leader.

RELATED: VIDEO: Tiny therapeutic horse makes for touching story

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. The program has been used with inmates with complex needs and helped them learn new skills while spending time with the horses for therapeutic purposes.

“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.”

RELATED: Prison an “economic boon” to the South Okanagan

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