A WEST Dorset charity using horses to rehabilitate violent prisoners from Portland Young Offender Institution is three times more effective at reducing reoffending than other methods, figures suggest.

Harriet Laurie, from Askerswell, set up TheHorseCourse in 2010 using her trained horses to teach violent young offenders.

She has been teaching the course at the YOI long enough now to produce results about reoffending.

According to the Ministry of Justice, the accepted maximum is a 10 per cent reduction in reoffending for most interventions – TheHorseCourse can boast a 27 per cent reduction.

Ms Laurie said she wanted the evidence to be robust, verifiable and scientifically sound and has had her results analysed by top academics. She has also produced an evidence review commissioned by the Ministry of Justice, and now TheHorseCourse has been chosen as an exemplar of a small charity doing a great job of providing evidence to prove its efficacy.

Ms Laurie said: “The results are all the more impressive for the fact that the prisoners taking part in TheHorseCourse complete the course in just one week of intensive activity with specially trained horses, and are chosen from the most “difficult to reach” candidates.

“The course is also being successfully trialled in the community, to reach young people sooner. Not just those who are at risk of offending, but those who are having trouble in school for other reasons.”

Ms Laurie said disengaged and disruptive offenders have often had negative experiences of mainstream education and classroom-based tuition but can and find the horsemanship context more acceptable. Those on the course are required to perform increasingly difficult tasks – all of which require specific skills and need participants to learn they need to be calm, assertive, focused and give clear communication, as opposed to coercing or man-manhandling the horses.

Ms Laurie said: “They learn to be benign, trustworthy effective leaders.

“Building a horse’s confidence with a scary object requires empathy, calmness, communication and perseverance.

“Asking a horse to weave through cones in step with the participant, with slack ropes, requires the participant to maintain a strong, clear focus.

“Planning six tasks for the final video assessment requires calmness and realistic planning.”

Ms Laurie has also just successfully taught her course to 20 youngsters referred to her from Dorset’s Children’s Services and there are plans to put on more, teaching the children – and their parents.

TheHorseCourse has the support of patrons Lord Knight of Weymouth, and actor Martin Clunes who is President of the British Horse Society.