I feel hope for the first time, this is just the beginning. I'm going to go out and get a job. I could do more in my life.
I'm not so aggressive on the wing now, I realised it's all about communication. I just don't 'go' so easy now.
Horses read your emotions, you've got to be patient. Fights happen just like that (clicks), but the horses teach you to just not escalate things so much, so quickly. I've proper learnt, if you're around people just give them the chance. I would tell other prisoners to do this course, it's well worth it.
You have to make the horse feel safe. You learn self-discipline, and how to read body language so you understand. This course can make a proper angry person calm down a lot. You get less frustrated.
Usually I'm not a calm person. I've learnt to be calm and people feel less intimidated. And this has made me practice things, usually I just give up. This sorts out what's going to go wrong in your life
I've done other courses, they tell you what to do but they don't really put it into action. I've been on P-ASRO, CO-V, TSP, things like that - 6 week courses sitting in a classroom - thinking skills and alcohol related violence, talking about emotions and stuff like that, but this is better, cos you get to put it into action. On the other courses they tell you things to think about but having the horses means you see their reaction. They know better. They can see when you're calm. You might think you are but they still know you are not. And then you have to work on it, and they notice. I'm starting to get the hang of it now. If I had calmed down I would have thought about coming to prison and just stayed on that bus and went home.
I've been on anger management courses, alcohol courses, things like that - this is much different, you're learning it physical, not mental if you know what I mean. It's helped me more, without a doubt. I don't like talking... normally, with other courses you're in a group of people... you have to talk about your issues and things like that, but here you get it out in a different way, you're doing physical things not just talking. I've been doing that since I was 6 years of age and it's never worked.
I learnt a lot about myself. I can actually do things. I always say I can't but I can.
(participant, after acting as assistant instructor on the 2nd course) They've shown more determination, more willing to learn, more confidence. And it feels good - self belief, when you help someone do it.
John Thompson, Death Row, 18yrs, New Orleans. Founder of Resurrection after Exoneration. (the guineapig)
It was amazing to have that much control over something so big and so powerful without trying to use force. Those horses only do things for you when they trust you. And you are trying to control your own fear. This horse is really in control but if you are gentle they sense that too and they are going to be fine with you. You have to respect them, and they give you their approval. I was shocked how good it could make me feel. Once you can make that horse feel he can really trust you, he will give you his cooperation - you have to work for that. Just like you have to with everyone else. It learned me how to look at some of the things I've been dealing with in life. How I can get that same trust with other people and how you've got to work at a relationship. Learning the proper respect that both sides are supposed to give each other, without you being afraid he is going to hurt you or you are going to hurt him. People that has been in confinement - this is something that they should try - it is something challenging. It's a thing about life, how we should treat one another.
David Bourne, Deputy Governor, HMYOI Portland
Firstly can I say a sincere thank you to you for making this amazing project happen here at Portland. Sadly, certain barriers that exist due to the nature of being a prison often hinder or prevent ideas such as these becoming reality. I am grateful to you for overcoming any obstacles. I was also genuinely impressed with how your style and approach fitted perfectly with the needs of our lads. I felt that their reaction to the course and the opportunity they had been given was excellent and in speaking with them I was moved and impressed in equal measure with their articulation of the personal journey they had made.
Eryl Doust, Head of Reducing Re-Offending, HMP Oakwood
Harriet has shown herself to be an excellent practitioner and her relations with prisoners are second to none. In her visits here we have had ministers and various people of influence to watch her at work. Without exception they have commented on her style and her complete dedication to task. On watching her work, one of the Governors here commented that he was more moved and inspired by her work than he has been in years. Wing staff and the most hard bitten officers have been impressed and won over by her work and prisoners have shown a real benefit from the course she has devised. She is simply inspiring!
HM Prisons Independent Monitoring Board, Annual Report 2010/11
A16. There have been a number of interesting projects implemented this year – all aimed at increasing both the educational level of prisoners and their social skills and particularly aimed at those disaffected from learning:
Working with Parelli horses, which have been brought into the prison for the purpose. Prisoners who participated and observers who saw the project were enthusiastic and impressed by what it had taught them, particularly in anger management and patience.
Lord Ramsbotham, former Chief inspector of Prisons, in a letter to Crispin Blunt, Minister of Justice
Quite clearly the present Governor of HMYOI Portland is a sensible and imaginative person who is looking widely to identify and encourage projects that can interest and encourage young people, in a way that is sadly all too rare. Seeing these three together (TheHorseCourse + 2 other projects at Portland) I wonder if there is anything that you can do to encourage not only their promotion but also their possible spread to other YOIs, because of what they represent in terms of potential good. Perhaps all this could be incorporated in the action plan following the Breaking the Cycle Green Paper.
Suzy Dymond-White, National Offender Management Service (NOMS), former prison Governor and current student of natural horsemanship
Having worked with offenders for 25 years I have seen many programmes designed to address their challenging behaviours. It is inspiring to see an approach that offers such potential in reaching the truth of people by letting them finding it for themselves. Horses can do that through their close alignment to human emotion - they have no reason to impress, judge or make a profit! I am greatly impressed with TheHorseCourse and the energy, professionalism and commitment Harriet shows in delivering something she truly believes in. My understanding of offenders and horses leads me to believe that there is an opportuniy here for the two to work together to achieve great things, especially for the most challenging of young men for whom society has struggled to find a solution.
E Farrell MA SPCPRC UKCP registered Psychotherapist, Supervisor, Lecturer and Writer (observed the course over two days)
I was blown away. What this course creates is, in my terminology, a series of intrapsychic crises for the participants, where they have to make a shift in themselves in order to experience relief. The horses provide a very immediate acknowledgement and reward when they get the change right. Research suggests that working in the here and now as people are experiencing a difficulty, and are able to deal with it, and reflect upon it, leads to long term and sustainable change.
Prisoners are often very difficult to establish a psychotherapeutic relationship with as they defend themselves from contact with themselves and others. Psychotherapy and neuroscience research together suggests that in order for someone to function effectively they need to have access to their own feelings, to notice them, name them accurately and to be able to respond to them considerately.
On the Horse Course prisoners learn through experience. They have to notice, name and be responsible for their own feelings, if they are going to work successfully with the horses. If they are not, they get no where and unlike a therapist or probation officer the horse has no particular interest or investment in them, which means the prisoners have to take responsibility for themselves.
I learnt that horses actually aren't that scary. I focused on what I had to do, I was calm. I took responsibility for my own actions and I also thought about the horse and not myself. I think this Course has changed the way I think of horses and myself because to control a horse you have to be very gentle and not shout.
Claire Board, Youth & Family Intervention Worker, Dorset
F has fed back to me what a positive experience the Horse Course was for her. One thing she has held on to is learning that she is not able to change how other people think and act but CAN manage the way she feels and reacts (I think this was something new to F as she has always wanted to control how others behave). Over all she got a lot from TheHorseCourse and it has given the work I am doing with her an excellent head start.
Kirsty Dring, Wellbeing Team Leader, All Saints School, Weymouth
I have various agencies I can refer to for help or support - for example, the behavior support service for young people at risk of exclusion, CAMHS for mental health input (and I used to work in CAMHS)... we chat with young people in rooms about difficulties... what I really liked while observing our pilot with THC is that they worked on their difficulties in the moment. I think that a lot of young people need that tangible-ness. They need to feel it, experience it, see it, try it, touch it. It's a very different approach – which appears to offer enormous gain for our young people in a remarkably short and powerful intervention. THC now offers us a new option which shows great promise to reduce exclusions and to reduce ongoing mental health issues.
Siobhan Dempsey, Specialist Support Worker, Compass Learning Centre
As X's 1:1 it was wonderful for me to see him outside an educational environment, being pushed well and truly outside his 'comfort zone' and achieving so much. X has fairly low self-confidence and struggles to interact with others in a positive or effective way, frequently using aggression. Throughout the majority of his educational career X has been in specialist provision owing to ADHD and Social Emotional Behavioural Difficulties. Everything about the experience and the environment of TheHorseCourse seemed to lend itself to having a positive effect upon him. Clear boundaries, positive and realistic expectations... one particularly notable progression I saw was when X had behaved in an aggressive manner within the arena. The instructor took the opportunity to get him to consider his behaviour. X is typically defensive in these situations, but she was positive and reflected the behaviour and responsibility back onto him, likening it to the relationship with the horses. X eventually made a genuine apology based on the impact his behaviour had. I was astonished, both by the instructor's handling of the situation and what a massive milestone this was for X. He appears now to be on an upward trajectory regarding his behaviour and attitude and has shown himself to be capable of focus and concentration within the classroom, as well as an increase in polite and respectful behaviour toward staff. I have observed new skills in emotional self management and a greater willingness to accept advice and guidance with this.
Tracey Hodder, Specialist Support Worker, Compass Learning Centre
This course really helped the students with their confidence. Often I see these kids so afraid of failure that they won't even try. Right from the first moment they had to change the way they were being, take control of the situation, be effective. If they can do that in their lives, that is huge.
Allan Wood, Headmaster, Compass Learning Centre
TheHorseCourse has made a significant impact. One female student now recognises that she is able to succeed if at first failure seems to be the likely outcome for her. No Longer. Another whose attendance at the Compass was limited at best has developed sufficient confidence to more than double her time in lessons here.
Dorset Mental Health Forum - part of the Wellbeing & Recovery Partnership (ImROC demo site), working on NHS Mental Health Service redesign across the whole of Dorset.
In addition to the benefits of TheHorseCourse outlined in the Meek report, our own Peer Specialists have seen direct gains for our clients at HMP Portland. We are impressed with the impact this course has for those who are struggling with conventional treatments. We believe that people and communities hold many of their own answers and that TheHorseCourse provides a service that can unlock potential, teach skills and instill hope. As part of our ongoing Mental Health Service redesign, we are working in partnership with TheHorseCourse on a number of pilots including Rehab Services, Crisis Service and Acute Inpatient settings.
Nicholas Purchase FRSA, Director Ashness Care, Haringey, London (specialist mental health services for men with forensic histories and challenging behaviours).
TheHorseCourse is an activity which seems to have a profound effect on all. Conflicts get resolved, difficult behaviour reduces and a sense of commitment and purpose seems to follow... we are keen to repeat this for staff and service users together. I will be raising it as an option for other care providers in the Haringey Mental Health & Rehabilitation Providers Group.
Stephanie Gaunt, licenced 3* Parelli Professional horsemanship instructor
Harriet has harnessed the honesty of the horse to create a uniquely powerful course for installing mental and emotional self control, and that is what leads to functional behaviour. I was very impressed when I met and worked with some of the participants of 'TheHorseCourse'. Horses don't respond well to anger, frustration or force and will give feedback on your negative emotions by becoming scared or more dominant. This enabled the participants to look at themselves and see when emotions were escalating; this led to them being able to become more calm and balanced. I am excited to be a part of this project as I believe that TheHorseCourse will benefit the participants and the wider community as part of a successful rehabilitation programme.
Helen Price, Lead Commissioner for Families, Gloucestershire County Council
It's great to see an intervention where there is such good evidence of effectiveness, and where so much attention has been paid to making sure that the real changes in young peoples lives are understood and captured.
Liz Eaton, BHSI
I was asked to assist TheHorseCourse by checking the risk assessments and Safe System of Work (which details the appropriate process for specific activities with horses). I am satisfied that safe and sensible practices are in place and the staff I observed were demonstrating a high standard, both in terms of safety and quality of teaching. It was frankly an inspiring day and I am glad to be involved in a small way.
Reverend Simon Beveridge, Royal Marines, Poole
We train our people by doing, but when things go wrong we try to fix them by talking. It doesn't make sense. TheHorseCourse could be a great way to get through to our lads when they get into difficulties.
Professor Ann Hemingway, Senior Lecturer in Public Health, Bournemouth University
Evidence to date indicates that TheHorseCourse provides a very promising range of benefits, particularly for people who are not able or willing to make progress in in conventional services. We are engaged with THC in a range of studies to measure efficacy and understand the change mechanisms.
Dr Rosie Meek, Royal Holloway University (Psychology, esp. Young Offenders)
Young offenders have one of the highest rates of reconviction after release from custody, with around three quarters reoffending within a year. Specialist courses like this that have the potential to engage with especially challenging, vulnerable and complex individuals are urgently needed. The Horse Course is demanding and intensive but preliminary findings from the evaluation research have demonstrated that the young prisoners who participate show an improved awareness of how their behaviour impacts on others and increased motivation to transform their lives for the better. The ultimate aim of this programme is to reduce reoffending and although the evaluation is still in its early stages, initial findings are incredibly positive.
Read Professor Meek's Interim Evaluation Report.
Dr Mark Kerr, Lecturer in Social Policy, Kent University
My work is mainly focused on meeting the needs of looked after children and their subsequent outcomes. The whole sector is awash with funding for ‘innovation’, but to date few solutions have been produced despite millions of pounds spent by government. However, there are some very rare gems of innovative approaches built on evidence with accompanying robust evaluations. TheHorseCourse is a fantastic example of this and the only new therapeutic approach I am excited about. The evidence on its effectiveness is becoming compelling, and Harriet’s drive to generate further evidence through independent evaluation is both brave and to be commended. I would encourage all commissioners in health and social care to consider TheHorseCourse as an integral part of their approach for specialist children’s services and early help". Professor Ann Hemingway from Bournemouth University joined us to explain the breakthrough in her research - tracking the physiological effect of our work and how that feeds into changes in emotions and thinking patterns.
Rachel Natasha Thomas, BSc Applied Social Sciences (Criminology), read her dissertation here
...this research advances evidence that TheHorseCourse is an effective programme in terms of achieving its aims; addressing offending behaviour, improving engagement with the prison regime and increasing offenders’ motivation and confidence as learners. The method appears to be a beneficial addition to offender resocialisation and rehabilitation processes given the development of skills in psychological resilience, emotion management and anger management.
James Noble, New Philanthropy Capital
TheHorseCourse exemplifies the right attitude and approach towards collecting and analysing data in order to test and prove impact, as well as develop practice responsively. We're impressed by the fact they are doing everything they can to identify and think about their outcomes and looking into the existing evidence base for their work.
Maria Clarke, The Evaluation Trust
The footage is delightfully clear on process, practice and evaluation by the young people in custody. I hope that you can attract some funding to expand the programme and carry out further research into why it works, when it doesn't etc. A clear case for a longitudinal, participatory evaluation with a sample of participants.
Lord Knight of Weymouth (former Minister for Education)
I was delighted to be asked to be a Patron of TheHorseCourse because of the amazing results of the work. Engaging and motivating prisoners is notoriously difficult and yet TheHorseCourse has managed to do just that consistently and effectively. My contact with the staff and members of the IMB (Independent Monitoring Board) reinforces that Harriet has discovered a remarkable tool for working with prisoners, and one that I believe can be scaled up as more prisoners benefit from the experience.
Martin Clunes (Actor, Presenter & President of The Bristish Horse Society)
Horses are great teachers. These guys, especially young offenders, are stuck in patterns of behaviour and they don't know how to deal with it. If you shove an angry young man in a round pen with a horse, the horse will pick up on that in a second and either run away from you or run you over. Seeing these kids getting a horse to do something for them simply by controlling their own moods is incredible.
Lady Knight of Weymouth (Educator, IMB member HMP Portland)
I am proud to be a Trustee of TheHorseCourse and to be involved with something that has such a dramatic positive effect with very challenging, and challenged, subjects.
Emily Bolton (Solicitor and founder of Innocence Project New Orleans, Centre for Criminal Appeals, UK)
I have worked with prisoners and in prisons for 15 years. I have always despaired of seeing a truly transformative teaching methodology emerge in prisons. TheHorseCourse could well be that methodology, as it empowers prisoners as teachers and leaders of horses, rather than trying to further diminish them as pupils forced to listen to yet another authority tell them why they are wrong. Working beyond language, in the confronting and downright scary environment of a round pen shared with very large animals, prisoners are engaged and involved in the course before they even realise it's happened - and that is when the real magic begins...
K Forrester, Schoolteacher & Head of Year, All Saints School, Weymouth
Almost everyone in prison has been through an education (and support services) system and for one reason or another it has failed them; often because the delivery and message are inaccessible or irrelevant. This non-verbal method of teaching empowers the prisoners and teaches them entirely new life skills such as responsibility, control, self esteem and a sense of necessity, the knowledge that they need to be a resourceful and assertive leader and learner right now and that they can shape their own experiences of life. Society would benefit from this sort of intervention earlier, I would like to see it in primary schools, then we would be truly reducing offending and ensuring we make education accessible for all.
Dr Nicholas Kosky (Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, NICE panel Chair, and Medical Director of our local NHS trust)
TheHorseCourse provides a unique service, developed in Dorset, with a growing world-wide reputation for helping when traditional approaches have failed.