Big Spender, an original movie based on the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and its influence on prison inmates, will debut March 25 at 8 p.m. on Animal Planet.
The movie follows Eddie Burton, a repeat offender who has been unable to put his life back together, jeopardizing his relationship with his young son. But Burton turns his life around and he is able to win back his son after entering a prison program run by the TRF.
The rehabilitation program in Big Spender is based on the TRF's facility at the Wallkill Correctional Institute in Wallkill, New York. Casper Van Dien stars in the role of Eddie Burton.
Director Paul Schneider said his inspiration was a newspaper story he read about the TRF and how its programs had such a positive influence on prisoners, while finding homes for retired race horses who may have otherwise gone to slaughter.
"I came across a story on the TRF that appeared in the New York Times," he said. "The headline was something like 'Cast Away Horses, Cast Away Men.' I was immediately drawn to that. Here were these guys who nothing had worked for them until the TRF helped change their lives. That said to me, this was a story. It jumped off the page."
The horse in the movie is based on Banker's Jet, who won 28 of his 106 starts before breaking down in 1991. Privately retired, he was found at a farm in upstate New York in terrible condition and was sent to Wallkill where he was nursed back to health by the program's inmates.
Once Schneider visited the Wallkill facility, he knew it was a story that had to be told.
"It was such an unusual setting," he said. "You had this juxtaposition of the prison and this bucolic, pastoral farm. There were these hardened men who had this softness and affection for these horses. It was really something to see."
Additional showtimes are March 28 at noon and 9 p.m.; and March 30 at noon.