ACTOR Martin Clunes has taken on a new role – and it couldn’t be further from his grumpy alter ego Doc Martin.

He’s being something of a Father Christmas to one of the charities closest to his heart – TheHorseCourse based in Weymouth, which uses horses to teach key emotional skills to troubled and disadvantaged people when conventional therapies aren’t helping. 

He’s just launched the charity’s Fourteen Furry Faces to Feed campaign with a generous donation.

He’s well-known for the charity fundraising he does for bigger charities but less so for his role as Patron to TheHorseCourse. 

He hasn’t actually donned a red suit or a white beard but he’s certainly been bearing gifts to support the work the charity does - £1,000 of his £5,000 donation will go towards keeping the horses fed and healthy. 

“This costs over £10,000 per year. The rest of his gift will be used to improve facilities at the charity’s new HQ on a former dairy farm.

He said: “You could say I’ve put my money where my mouth is because I feel so strongly that what TheHorseCourse does is so valuable. It has a proven track record of reaching people when all else fails – people who can’t engage with talking therapies for whatever reason. 

“I’ve seen first-hand how well those people respond to the horses who become their teachers. Not everybody can talk to a person and describe their problems, but these hand-picked, special animals give people a chance.

TheHorseCourse CEO Harriet Laurie said: “For many of our participants it’s a way to experience for the first time what calmness actually feels like. We teach the strategies and they can see for themselves when it is working as the horse beside them will stop dancing a jig. Gradually they become self-reliant and can find calmness even in stressful situations

“The horses are highly trained and the facilitators expert at reading body language and knowing what strategies are going to work to address what problems.”

Martin, who keeps a large herd of his own horses, knows it takes money to keep equines and TheHorseCourse has 14 to feed and that’s why, he said, he’s kick starting the charity’s winter feeding campaign.

He added: “I am hoping that people will feel as I do, especially at this time of year, that supporting people whose lives – and mental health – is a struggle is really in the spirit of Christmas.”

TheHorseCourse CEO Harriet Laurie said: “We can’t thank Martin enough for the support he gives us. He really understands what we do here to help improve the quality of life for people who typically come to us with multiple problems – things like anxiety and depression, self harm, addictions, domestic abuse. Most our participants are out of school, training and work because they simply can’t cope and are referred by professionals in mental health or social work because all else has failed – and 80% make measurable improvements in this key area after our programme.

“We couldn’t do what we do without the horses – some of whom have been rescued themselves – so we are appealing to the public join Martin Clunes in donating to our campaign.

“Not that we are expecting every cheque to be so generous!”

Donations can be made through the charity’s Facebook page or on the website or look out for its volunteers who will be bag packing at Asda in Weymouth on December 7 from 11.30am, December 9 from 2pm and December 16 from 10.30am.