Boy's Haven Raising Up Future Horsemen

Now that the Oaks and Derby are over, I'm going to focus on a few more rescue stories/charitable organizations that are more than worthy of a mention, especially in light of the struggling economy. We ran a little article on a Louisville, Ky.-based organization called Boy's Haven in the magazine a couple years ago when it started an equine program. In 2010, the organization continues to turn out students that could quickly become some important faces of our industry's future.

One of those individuals is James Jones.     

When Jones came to the Louisville-based Boy’s Haven at age 14, he was not in a good place. Experiencing the repercussions of a troubled family background, he was looking for a refuge to which he could escape and find comfort, but he never thought that he would also discover his greatest passion in the process.

After helping Boy’s Haven form an equine training program in May 2007 and learning the Thoroughbred industry from the ground up through retired police officer and Thoroughbred trainer Jay Wilkinson, Jones realized he had found his niche. He is now employed at Churchill Downs, selling tickets for various racing events over the phone, with the desire to also do some future work as a groom on the backside of the track.

“James has been in every portion of our program, from residential to independent living, to the equine program,” said Wilkinson. “He’s just done great. He’s a real, nice personable kid. He’s got a great smile and really likes talking to you and sharing what he’s learned and where he’s been.” 

Jones said the hands-on work that he did with the horses in Boy’s Haven’s equine program has helped him be more comfortable in his current position. 

“The fact I learned the grooming part and more about the horses prepared me for working in the office, because a lot of the people that call are horsemen or owners, and it’s good for them to talk to someone that’s familiar with what they’re doing instead of just the business aspect of (the industry),” said Jones.

“I think the equine program gave me tools that I really didn’t have before that, as far as working and dedicating myself to something, because when you work with an animal, it really needs you,” he added. “It can’t do things for itself, so it motivates you and it’s good to see the progress of the work you’re doing.”

The Boy’s Haven equine program was formed by Wilkinson as an equine employment training course. Starting out with around 10 kids, it has now grown to more than 35 participants.

The program has the basic purposes of teaching troubled teens, most of which have come from foster homes and rough family backgrounds, to learn positive social skills and work ethic. It has also had a therapeutic effect on many of those involved, said Jim Grote, who serves as director of development of Boy’s Haven.

Boy's Haven teen Justin (red hat) receiving his high school diploma from program officials Jay Wilkinson (on Justin's left) and Jim Grote (on Justin's right)

Grote said around 70% of kids exiting the program are immediately hired for jobs that pay above minimum wage and offer benefits through local Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Associations, as well as subsidized housing.

Former Boy's Haven student Shannon with Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear and one of the program's horses

“The work ethic doesn’t seem to take too long…(working with horses) is interesting, it’s something they can be proud of, and they all seem to really fall in love with the horses,” said Grote.

The racehorses that are cared for by the equine program are not actually owned by Boy’s Haven; however the partnerships that campaign them pay the facility for feed and supplies.

Recently, Boy’s Haven has added an equine therapy program in which its youth have the option of participating. Around six therapy horses are kept at a stable on the corner of Bardstown and the Watterson Expressway in Louisville, while the program’s 10 horses in training are boarded at the nearby Trackside training center.

Boy's Haven student George with Porter, one of the program's therapy horses

Caring for the racehorses gives the youth a great reason to cheer them on at the track. One of the Boy’s Haven’s biggest reasons to celebrate in recent years was due to the now 8-year-old gelding Stanton, who was stabled at Trackside and cared for by the youth.

During his racing career, Stanton won or placed in 16 of 35 starts and retired with earnings of more than $100,000. Boy’s Haven participants were thrilled to watch the son of Menifee win at Churchill, as well as Turfway Park and River Downs. 

James Jones holding Stanton in the winner's circle

To learn more about all the programs at Boy's Haven, visit


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