"I learnt how to control myself when something doesn't go right. I also learnt how to keep myself from giving up."
"If you saw me and then saw me how I’d changed now, you would think I was a different person. I would be screaming at teachers, screaming at kids, hitting kids, throwing things in classrooms and stuff. And now I feel more calm and I just feel like this is what’s made me calmer, coming here."
"I learnt how to stay calm. Thinking about my actions and not to worry/panic if something goes wrong. You learnt a lot of different/new things. The skills you have learnt can be used outside of TheHorseCourse."
"Through TheHorseCourse I gained self belief and self confidence. It reminded me that I am capable of completing tasks as long as I persevere and stay calm. I've left feeling able to achieve things I thought I never would. What's Good: Outside environment, patient, calm teachers, learning skills without realising it."
"I can use the 0 to 10 scale about my anger and use my neutral in my mind and body to get calm. I can set goals to focus for short periods. I will try to be more open to people helping me to learn. THC has a good vibe, I liked meeting all the different horses, especially Flame."
"I loved it. I learnt to calm myself down. I learnt that I can help the horses be able to do the tasks.
Mother: I have learnt a lot about myself and how to better manage situations and remaining calm to help me achieve what I am trying to do. From start to finish the course is excellent, I'm very grateful for the opportunity and what it has helped me to learn about myself and how to manage situations with my son.
Family worker: it was lovely to hear Mum so upbeat and positive about the impact this has had on D but also them as a family. I will certainly go through this with D and also discuss some points highlighted from the course with his teachers. This will also be discussed in detail at our TAF."
"I learnt that if you are demanding and forceful in situations it's most likely not gonna end well so you have to be calm and reasonable which most likely is gonna end better and happier. It was perfect, probably the best experience I've had in my life, it was fun, safe and calming all at the same time."
"I learnt a lot about being calm. I have notice a lot of changes in myself. I loved how I had to communicate with the horses, how I had to remain calm so the horses could remain calm. The instructor was good at telling me what to do and before I came I thought I had no chance. I am really grateful, I cant thank you all enough."
"I've learnt that the energy I thought I was giving out was different to the actual energy I was giving. I can use the skills I learnt, sticking and setting boundaries with the horses, with people too. It's good that without discussing my issues the course still works. The skills are easily transferable to real life. The course would be even better if it was longer! It's probably the best thing I've ever done."
"I really thought I'd hate it but I've loved it. I learnt that it's okay to be firm and that doesn't mean I'm being aggressive/mean. I learnt to give things a chance/second try when I felt like giving up. Nothing needs improving. I've had a really nice time even after I refused to do it for almost 2 years."
"A woman in her 20s diagnosed with PTSD, severe anxiety and Asperger’s syndrome with very low confidence and self esteem and OCD tendencies hadn’t left her home without her mother for a year before attending TheHorseCourse. She was locking herself in her bedroom.
Two months post course: She is accessing more services and appointments, engaging with new and more people, with no avoiding behaviours, more accepting of new things and meeting new people, doing more and has moved out of the family home into supported accommodation. I can’t stress enough to my colleagues how incredible the work you do is. I’ve had another client on my caseload attend last year and he’s just flying through his recovery now."
"TheHorseCourse hand back was shared with staff and the Ed Psych. We felt it was a true reflection X’s behaviour. X attended school during lockdown as a vulnerable student. Staff were able to consistently use the suggested strategies to get X to stop and think about his actions and language. As a result, X can check himself before acting, but if he doesn’t think, he is able to reflect on how he could have reacted better to have a better outcome. X has continued to improve since the whole school has returned to face to face lessons."
"I have various agencies I can refer to for help or support – eg. 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 offers young people the therapeutic input that they need and are able to access. Our pupils enjoy the experience. It supports their emotional health and well-being and can significantly reduce the likelihood of Exclusion from school."
Kirsty Dring, Wellbeing Team Leader, All Saints School, Weymouth
"F has fed back to me what a positive experience TheHorseCourse 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."
"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 to 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."
"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."
"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."
"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 instil 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."
"There are times when established treatments and approaches don’t work. At that point one needs to look at emerging treatments; and clearly those where there is a developing evidence base should be explored first. There is a growing body of evidence around equine-assisted interventions generally, and TheHorseCourse, unlike most similar endeavours, has been robust in collecting evidence of effectiveness and now has several years of data covering hundreds of cases. This data has been gathered and analysed under the scrutiny of external academic institutions, and found to show consistent benefits in improving self-regulation, amongst other skills."
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.
X is no longer physically hurting family members (particularly Mum). X seems more confident than before and taking control/ being assertive effectively over aspects of his life. X’s assertiveness/ control and reduction in physical fights has positively and significantly improved his and his families’ life. There is also improvement in relationships with peers: going out of the house to socialize, had a friend over to the home to socialize (previously did not happen). THC was fantastic for X, he enjoys supported volunteering there now and this has helped to remind him of those strategies each week
"THC is more effective for preventing future domestic violence than any other intervention in this study, with 51% fewer DVA flags at follow up. This compares very favourably with other DVA interventions in the published research literature."
"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. TheHorseCourse 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."
"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 their 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".
"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."
"I was initially asked to assist TheHorseCourse by checking the risk assessments and safe systems of work (which detail 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."
"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."
"I was delighted to be asked to be a Patron of TheHorseCourse because of the amazing results of the work. "Engaging and supporting young people who can’t or won’t talk to therapists is notoriously difficult and yet TheHorseCourse has managed to do just that consistently and effectively."
"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."
We do not currently work in prisons, but our ReStart course was initially developed in Portland YOI as an action-research project, later broadening into the community to support a much wider range of people.
The following are excerpts from video interviews with young offenders (violent crimes):
"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, 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."
"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."
"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."
"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!"
"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."
"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."
"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 TheHorseCourse 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 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..."
"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."