Category Archives: Barn Talks

The Real Truth About Prison Horses

The Truth About Texas Prison Horses



This information is not official but is based upon word of mouth of people that have worked with the prison horses for years. There are many myths and wrong information involving these horses, we hope to bring you the correct information.

The Texas prison system controls over 142,000 acres (about 200 square miles) and operates the largest horse and cattle herds in the entire state (more than 10,000 head of cattle and around 1,800 horses). This is an Argi. system that grows larger every year.

Inmates are used to work the vegetable fields and the correctional officers use horses to help guard the inmates. This system has been used for 60 or more years and horses are a main part.

Almost all the horses used as security horses are born and bred in the prison system. They use mostly quarter horses and often cross out to draft breeds for size. Most geldings don’t have papers and most horses are sold without papers. In the old days many horses that were in the system just” disappeared” due to theft by employees. Now every horse is carefully tracked.

At one time horses that were moved out of the system were sold in the “good old boy system.” A few people with connections bought the horses and sold them as they saw fit. Many ended up at the slaughter house in Dallas. The public outcry put an end to that practice in the state of Texas, but many still end up on the plates of European restaurants. Enough people complained about not getting an opportunity to purchase prison horses and now all horses leaving the system must go to auction so everyone has an opportunity to buy a prison horse. These are not cheap horses no matter where they are sold and it is not uncommon for a 26 year old gelding to bring $1200 to $1400 just buying him by the pound.  The system has an occasional high-end sale in Navasota and a few sales a year where the rest of the horses are sold but there has not been one of these sales for several years.

Most riding guard horses have saddle stains, white marks on the withers, where the saddles have scarred them after years of daily use. If you find a prison horse without saddle stains it’s probably a brood mare that isn’t broke and does not ride at all.

Why are these horses often sold? Some are mares that don’t produce what they are looking for. Some are older and some are slightly lame. An 18 year old prison horse that has probably worked every week for 16 years may have a little touch of arthritis or some overall body soreness. This is like a pro football player that has old injuries that might slow him down some but he still has the experience and ability that a team will pay him millions to play on Sunday. Even with his little problems he still wins.

These older geldings are perfect for the inexperienced or young riders that aren’t going to run a horse to death but need an experienced and safe ride. We value a slightly off prison horse that has years of experience and will take care of a beginner rider. We evaluate each horse and will give you our honest opinion of their condition. You may ask a vet for their opinion but expect to find at least some minor problems with the older ones.

Some inmates are selected to help care, break and train the horses. It’s considered a good job so the inmates do the best they can to stay on the job. There is zero tolerance for horse abuse. Horses are not permitted to be hit any horse and you can tell when you handle them. The horses are considered State Property and are very well cared for. The horses get great care from A&M and are part of their teaching curricular for over 50 years. No medical expense is spared for the working horses or broodmares. Many guards move up in rank and change jobs and have fond memories of the horse they rode for 5 years straight.

There are two types of prison working horses. The guard horses are known for easy trailering, standing still while mounted for long periods of time, nice neck rein and a good handle. They spend hours each day with a guard on their back, standing under a shade tree. They usually have smooth and slow easy gaits. They are usually ridden slow wherever they go, but will pick up the pace if an inmate is escaping. The others are used in the cattle operation and are a little quicker so they can work cattle. We usually pass on the quicker ones. We did find one mare that was a little quick but was so well trained that she is now a champion kid’s barrel racer.

Every prison horse we’ve seen is branded on the left shoulder with a star. Most horses have a single digit on the left shoulder that is the year of their birth. A “O” on the shoulder means the horse is either ten years old or 20 years old. It’s easy to tell between a 10 and 20 year old mouth so aging is usually simple. Some are branded on the left hip which means they are out of a Texas Prison horse stud. Some are also branded on the left butt which lists which unit it was born on. Branding was done at different locations by different districts, and so a true set system does not exist. We have seen horses with just the star brand and no other branding.. And I have also heard rumors of a state freeze brand sold on craigslist recently, so fakes maybe out there.

We just took in 1 of these unusual horses and have put her through a riding evaluation. If you would like to see the horse for sale please call. For more information about prison horses please call Crystal at 936-222-8221