Navigate / search

Dion Pope rehabilitates inmates and horses

Dion Pope, a three-time volunteer with Symphony in the Flint Hills, monitors the wagon rides. Pope is the manager of the Wild Horse Program at the Hutchinson prison. (Photo by Trudy Martin)

Dion Pope stood by his trailer as someone rode away with his horse.

Around lunchtime at Symphony in the Flint Hills, as riders were unloading horses, a beautiful chestnut tobiano horse pulled back from Josh Hull as he tried to put on the bridle, and bolted into the surrounding prairie.

If Pope hadn’t lent his horse, Ol’ Son, to Hull, he would have gotten in on the action. As it turns out, he would have been the perfect man for the job, since he trains horses for a living.

“I train inmates to train the wild horses,” he said. “Then we adopt them back into the public.”

Pope grew up in Hutchinson, where a lot of children don’t get the chance to ride horses. But his father, a horse trainer, hooked him at a young age.

“Some people were out riding bikes, and I was riding horses,” he said.

Riding and training horses prepared Pope for his career as the manager of the Wild Horse Program at the Hutchinson prison.

The Hutchinson facility is one of four programs across the United States. The Bureau of Land Management created the Wild Horse Program to help relieve horse overpopulation on federal lands in the western part of the country.

The horses are kept at the Hutchinson facility in the stables the inmates built with donated materials. The Hutchinson prison can hold up to 350 horses and includes boarding and training stalls, riding rings, and a building used for extreme weather. The horses can be bought either trained or untrained for $125. The few that are not bought are sent to long-term holding locations to live out the rest of their lives.

The biggest customer to this program is the United States Border Patrol; they have purchased at least 90 head from this location specifically.

Some of these horses pulled wagons at the 13th annual Symphony in the Flint Hills. Others may use the horses for barrel racing, roping, etc.

Right before the wagon rides were scheduled to begin, the loose horse was safely returned to Hull who explained they were still working out kinks in the horse. Pope, a three-time volunteer at the Symphony, prepared for the day’s work of monitoring the wagon rides once Ol’ Son was returned.

— by Trudy Martin