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Arkansas prison system auctions 25 of its horses, sought after for their gentle riding

Sale of 25 animals yields $111,000 by Tess Vrbin | March 13, 2022 at 3:28 a.m.
Lt. Heath Johnson rides Custer, a yellow gelding from the East Arkansas Regional Unit, around the pen Saturday during the Arkansas Department of Corrections Horse Auction at the Saline County Fairgrounds. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

Shawnee, a gray horse raised to work for the Arkansas Department of Corrections, was supposed to breed more horses for the department.

He turned out not to be as fertile as hoped, said Tom Green, the department's horse program coordinator. Shawnee wasn't bred or trained to be a squad horse like most of the other horses that Green breaks and trains for the program.

"He has a faster mind, a quicker disposition and [is] more athletic," Green told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The department sold Shawnee at Saturday's annual Department of Corrections horse auction in Thomas Arena at the Saline County Fairgrounds in Benton. The auction is advertised as "Good Homes for Good Horses," and the animals are all retired after many years with the department.

This year's 25 horses sold for a total of $111,000, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Cindy Murphy said.

The horses for sale every year are usually at least 15 years old, but Shawnee was this year's exception at 7 years old and therefore highly sought after. He was the last horse to be auctioned off, and after a bidding war, Lane Jason of Dolph bought Shawnee for $9,100, the highest price of the day.

Jason and his family applauded when the auctioneer, state Rep. Mark McElroy, R-Tillar, announced Shawnee was sold.

"Hopefully he's going to be a head horse," Jason said, meaning a horse he can ride while roping cattle.

Most of the other horses were advertised as gentle animals who ride well. All of the department's horses are born and raised in Calico Rock, and Green starts to break and train them when they are 2-and-a-half years old.

Five of the horses sold Saturday are "barn sour," meaning they will resist leaving the barn, and Green said the department takes pride in its honesty with potential buyers.

"We don't ever want to misrepresent a horse," he said. "We're going to tell you the good and the bad, and we have built the sale and our reputation on telling it exactly like it is. If there's a scar, if there's a mark, if there's a problem riding the horse, we'll tell you."

The sale draws prospective customers from all over Arkansas and from other states. Eric Beene, owner of Shelby Farms Stables in Memphis, bought four horses at Saturday's sale.

Shelby Farms Stables offers trail rides to children as young as 8 years old, and Beene said he has bought horses at the Department of Corrections auction for six years in a row. He appreciates that these horses are used to being ridden and do not need to be trained, he said.

"After we use them for a couple years, we'll put them in a really nice home, and most of the time that will be a customer," said Joan Aigner, the Shelby Farms Stables barn manager.

Beene and Aigner said they also appreciate the opportunity to meet and ride the horses the day before the auction every year.

Green said the crowd of potential buyers at the preview Friday morning was larger than last year's, though the cold and snowy weather in the afternoon thinned the crowd.

Repeat customer Jeremy Davis of Marcella brought his wife and three children to the preview, looking for a horse that "does really well in the mountains," he said.

"This year, it seems like we're getting the option of better and younger horses [than past years]," Davis said.

Besides Shawnee, the horses in especially high demand were "babysitters," Green said, meaning they can be trusted with children riding them.

Storm, Sidney, Isabelle, Peach and Wendy were the five "babysitter" horses for sale, and they each sold for more than $4,000.

Chloe, another horse Green said is good with young and inexperienced riders, received a lot of attention at Friday's preview and sold for $6,000 Saturday.

During the auction, Chloe received one last ride from Newport corrections officer Lt. Vennie Clark, who rode her at work for years.

"She said she'd like to ride her horse one last time, and we're very honored to have her with us," Green told the audience.

  photo  Lt. Vennie Clark rides her horse, Chloe, one last time during the Arkansas Department of Corrections Horse Auction on Saturday at the Saline County Fairgrounds. Lt. Clark worked with Chloe for four years at a correctional facility in Newport. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

Print Headline: Prison horse auction brings crowd of buyers


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