East Lyme - It's an unlikely pairing.
Angel Carrion, of Hartford, an inmate at the Niantic Annex, formerly the Gates Correctional Institution, and Lightning, a pony who recently gave birth to a male foal, aptly named Thunder.
Lightning was one of 11 horses seized from Meriden in May. The horses were in various stages of ill health. Some were malnourished, had overgrown teeth or were riddled with lice.
"I helped her get used to people," said Carrion. "She trusts me, and she's starting to trust more people, too. I want to help her get out."
Lightning is protective of the foal born on March 25. She nudges him away from onlookers.
Carrion can relate.
"I don't want anyone messing with her," he said of Lightning. "She's special to me. This has been a great experience."
Carrion is one of five inmates who work at the Second Chance Large Animal Rehabilitation Facility, a collaborative program between the state Department of Agriculture and the Department of Correction.
The inmates care for the 16 horses seized in animal cruelty cases throughout the state. They also have cared for goats, pigs and chickens.
The program was launched in 2003 when 27 horses were seized from Hamden and North Haven.
"We saw a need for this facility because it wasn't cost effective to house the animals in a private facility," said Raymond T. Connors, an Animal Control Division supervisor at the Department of Agriculture. "Plus, the animals seized are evidence in a crime."
Connors said the farm is the state's only rehabilitative facility for animals seized in animal abuse cases.
He said plans are under way to open another rehabilitative facility at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Montville within the next couple of weeks.
Andrius Banevicius, a correction department spokesman, said the inmates who participate in the program gain job skills and learn how to properly care for another living thing.
"There is certainly a restorative aspect to it," Banevicius said. "These horses came out of abusive situations, and some of these inmates can relate to that."
Correction Capt. Tony Corcella said inmates selected to participate are screened and interviewed.
From Monday through Friday, the five inmates work from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Some of their responsibilities include brushing the horses, picking their hooves and cleaning the stalls.
On Wednesday morning, the horses were outside in paddocks, some of which were made out of old guardrails.
Two horses, Rebel and Venus, roamed freely on the farm.
Rebel, a black-colored horse, gently nudged onlookers, unsuccessfully seeking carrots.
Some inmates, using wheelbarrows, carried hay into the stalls and others cleaned hooves.
"It teaches them responsibility," Corcella said. "It gives them a sense of satisfaction. They really enjoy doing this, and I do see a change in them."
Connors said it costs the Department of Agriculture $200,000 a year to operate the farm. Since its opening, more than 200 animals have been rehabilitated.