Jail’s Wild Horse Program could be next ‘feel-good’ reality TV hit

At the horse ranch just outside the gates of the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center, there’s always some drama happening – a new wild mustang is proving more difficult than expected, someone falls off a horse or ranch manager Joe Misner has to fire an inmate.

Those ups and downs of life in the Sacramento County sheriff’s Wild Horse Program could soon appear on television screens. A docu-drama TV series about the program is in the works, according to the department. The show, tentatively named “Bucked Out,” would showcase the inmates training horses and how training the wild mustangs changes inmates’ lives, Misner said.

“They’re mostly interested in the stories of how the horse goes from the wild to being trained and becoming a useful part of society,” he said. “And at the same time, the men go from being incarcerated in a system to realizing they have value ... and can be something that most people can’t be.”

About 20 inmates are working on the ranch at any given time. To have time to go through Misner’s six-level natural horsemanship training program, an inmate has to be serving at least one year in the county jail near Elk Grove. The horses are wild mustangs from the Bureau of Land Management, which at any given time has thousands of horses in holding facilities.

Misner, who has built the program from the ground up, says men who complete the training regimen rarely return to jail. Besides giving the men a training foundation for a solid career in the horse industry, Misner says part of the secret to his success is the relationship the inmates form with the horses – something the TV show will highlight.

“It’s not going to be like ‘Lockup’ or ‘Cops,’ ” he said. “This is a feel-good reality show, if you can call it that.”

A December story in The Bee explored the changes the program can create in men who for years have cycled in and out of prison. That story focused on Chris Culcasi, a former methamphetamine addict and car thief who is in farrier school learning how to shoe horses.

The program could incorporate side story lines that follow former inmates like Culcasi as they try to make careers out of the training they received in jail, Misner said.

He and retired Sacramento County Sgt. Wayne Ebe would be the stars of the reality show. Ebe, who sometimes calls himself Misner’s “wing man,” said the show will be an adventure.

“I truly believe it’s going to be very popular,” Ebe said. “They have animal (shows) and this and that, but there’s nothing more majestic than a horse.”

He said he was featured on “Cops” as a Sacramento County deputy and started watching reality TV shows to get an idea of what’s out there. He said he thinks “Bucked Out” would be so much better than other offerings.

Ebe’s role – the cynical cop who spent 19 years on the street and is now trying to transform inmates – comes right out of the Wild Horse Program. The man behind the idea for the show, Wayne Michael Farquhar, is a retired lieutenant with the San Jose Police Department. The man who is paying Culcasi’s farrier school tuition is retired FBI agent George Vinson.

Farquhar, who works with the San Andreas Films Co. to develop TV shows, focuses on law enforcement or crime-related series, according to a Sheriff’s Department report. Misner said filming could start as soon as the summer.

“I’ve always thought that the best of the prison training came from training dogs and training horses,”

In a phone interview a few weeks ago, Vinson, the retired FBI agent, said, “Inmates with animals that need help – that nexus has always made sense to me.”

Farquhar declined to be interviewed for this article, citing pending agreements with the Bureau of Land Management and the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. “Bucked Out” passed its first hurdle Tuesday – the county Board of Supervisors signed off on the plan when they passed the consent calendar.

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison

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