A CRIMINOLOGY professor has praised a west Dorset charity to help young offenders – for producing their best chance of staying out of prison.

Professor Rosie Meek from The Royal Holloway University of London has been doing a scientific study of Harriet Laurie’s HorseCourse to evaluate whether it really works.

Ms Laurie started the HorseCourse with inmates at Portland Young Offender Institution to test her theory that using horses would help violent offenders change their behaviour.

Figures just released indicate her five-day course is three times better than any other form of rehabilitation currently on offer.

Prof Meek’s figures show a year after release re-offending among TheHorseCourse participants is 44 per cent – a drop of nearly 20 per cent on their predicted figures.

Prof Meek said to put it into perspective the most successful intervention previously – Thinking Skills Programme (TSP) achieves only a six per cent reduction.

The figures were even more remarkable, she said, as HorseCourse participants are considered too disruptive or disengaged for TSP.

Professor Meek said figures are based on a small sample but ongoing success would be monitored.

Former design and marketing consultant Ms Laurie, who started the HorseCourse in 2010, said: “We are very proud that what we do seems to be really working.”

Ms Laurie said she was grateful to Portland YOI for giving her a chance.

She said: “They were open enough to allow something so innovative and to allow us to prove the validity of it.”

Not only do the figures prove its success Ms Laurie has been able to get funding to expand nationawide.

She said: “We have proven that it works and now our funders are saying get out there and train more people.

“Currently we have six instructors based in Dorset, Somerset, Bucks, Devon and Gloucester.

“We have funding from the Monument Trust, Tudor Trust, J Paul Getty Foundation and D’Oyly Carte Trust to scale up.

“Our aim is to train 24 new instructors.”

The HorseCourse has already branched out to work with troubled schoolchildren, including some from All Saints School in Weymouth.

Kirsty Dring, wellbeing team leader at the school, said: “We have, behavioural support services, counselling and cognitive behaviour therapy – but what about the kids who just don’t seem to get anything out of talking?

“For the first time in years I now have a really effective alternative – The HorseCourse offers us a new option to prevent exclusions and to reduce ongoing mental health issues.”

Ms Laurie said the HorseCourse instructors will be working in prisons, with mental health referrals, pupil referral units and in residential homes for troubled children and she wants to hear from potential organisations nationally who would like to run courses.

Patrons of the HorseCourse include Martin Clunes and former Weymouth MP Lord Jim Knight.

Martin Clunes said: “These kids have been let down by everyone in their life so far but this course gives them something to work towards and aim for. It is such a fantastic charity.”

Organisations can contact Ms Laurie by email on harriet@thehorsecourse.org