Animals have the incredible ability to help people in ways that no other person possibly could. We have seen amazing stories where dogs have provided comfort to mourning people, cats help children develop the confidence to overcome a disability or injury, and these are just a few examples. After all, only animals can provide us with unconditional love and can always make us smile no matter how difficult things might seem.

This heartwarming story about an inmate who was able to heal emotionally thanks to the help of a retired horse shows just how much interacting with an animal can change a person for the better.


When Tamio Holmes found himself in prison for the second time in his life, he was understandably distraught. He explains to Off Track Thoroughbreds that he would cry every night and wouldn’t eat, but everything changed when the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s (TRF) Second Chances program came to the Virginia prison.

The program involved teaching inmates how to care for retired racehorses, tasking them with the responsibility of grooming and working with the animal to build life skills. Holmes was a bit skeptical at first, he recalls, “I remember when somebody first told me they were bringing horses to James River, and I thought, ‘I’m not going to fool with some rich person’s horses while I’m in prison.’ But some guys talked me into it … and I went down for an interview.”

The day that Holmes got to meet the horses, everything changed. He explained to Off Track Thoroughbreds, “When the horses first arrived, it was pretty amazing. We were all impatiently waiting … they’d bring one off the trailer and then go around get another. I was one of the first ones to step forward, and I grabbed the most amazing horse of all of them. I wound up grabbing Covert Action, the grandson of Secretariat!”



Over time, Holmes developed a deep connection with Covert and eventually taught him to follow his every move. When Holmes would run, Covert would run, when the horse needed anything, Holmes was right there to help. He soon learned how to care for horses hoof health and his mentor spotted his natural talent, encouraging Holmes to hone his skills. In no time, he was doing such a good job that people thought he was a professional farrier!


Holmes was finally released from prison in 2010 after serving three years and was given accommodations on Tucker’s Virginia farm and luckily got taken under the wing of Dr. Tom Newton, a local veterinarian. He worked shoeing horses and soon his services became well-known and word spread.

Now, Holmes is the proud owner of his very own farrier business, providing care for local horses. This former inmate credits Covert Action with his transformation and is now thriving – a true testament to how powerful working to help animals can truly be.


To learn more about TRF’s Second Chance Program, click here.

Lead image source: Debby Thomas Photography


In-text image source: Off Track Thoroughbreds