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  • Writer's pictureAlex Gulland


Updated: Mar 20, 2019

It’s funny the way that life can surprise you.

For example I never thought, that I would be be talking with the Arizona State Penitentiary, about the healing power of horses!

It’s a cold wintery night here in the UK, the rain is beating relentlessly against my window and I am talking with Randy Helm, who is baking in the Arizona heat.

Helm’s voice is engaging, laid back and chilled.

We are in conversation, because he successfully heads up the Wild Horse Inmate Programme (WHIP), within the Arizona State Penitentiary - his biography reads like a character from a Hollywood film.

From the age of seven Helm grew up mostly on his grandparents’ ranch in Safford, Arizona, where he trained retired racehorses how to herd cattle.

After a stint in the air force during the Vietnam war, he worked briefly as an undercover narcotics detective in Arlington, Texas.

On his first day he was given a sack of marijuana and told to get in his car, roll up the windows and let it burn, until the aroma totally infused into the cloth seats.

Only then could his vehicle be regarded by junkies, as that belonging to a bonafide drugs dealer - rather than a regulation smelling car, belonging to an undercover cop.

‘You’re totally immersed in that world. I carried a .25 automatic in an ankle holster…my liaison officer – I would meet him in the back of a cemetery,’ stated Helms.

The main part of Helm’s job is to guide and supervise the inmates within the Penitentiary, as they tame wild horses - Mustangs!

Wild Mustangs Roaming Free

Rather than using the traditional form of taming wild horses by ‘breaking them in’ the inmates are taught the process of ‘Gentling’ by Helm.

Helm tells me that this way of working with the horses, is not a weak way of training a horse, it’s just a gentler process.

All the inmates are instructed to earn their mount’s trust by gentle grooming, massaging the horses and talking to them - as you can imagine this can be a very slow process.

As it can take a long time before the wild mustangs, will allow themselves to even be touched.

Once this stage has been successfully completed and trust has been established, the inmates then proceed, in a similar fashion, to train the horses.

Each inmate will form a unique bond with their horse.

As the majority of these inmates have found their way into the penitentiary by trying to find quick, illegal ways of obtaining material possessions.

The gentling process can often be a very telling one.

Helm tells me that almost all inmates that go through the WHIP programme, under his supervision, do not re-offend.

‘You have to show the horses love and respect in order to get their trust’ Helm says.

It seems this is a two way process as the inmates soon learn that they have to have self-respect and faith in themselves / others, before they can even start to gain the trust of the horse.

The inmates also have to learn that respect from the horses really needs to be earned, as short cuts simply will not be tolerated.

Each inmate needs to demonstrate authenticity in all actions, with their allocated horse, every step of the way.

The WHIP programme seems to be one that provides a ‘win win’ solution - the horses get love / respect and the inmates gain powerful experience, which will hopefully help equip them for their future life outside the PenitentIary.

It reminds me of an advert, Dave Trott, references in his brilliant book ‘Creative Blindness’.

The advert was written by Neil Drossman in New York.

It was for a charity that retrained disabled people, and it showed a man in a wheelchair repaIring a television set.

The headline said:-


If you want to find out more about how I work please go to my website

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