ACTOR Martin Clunes has sung the praises of a west Dorset horse charity for its success in helping young offenders to turn their lives around.

The Beaminster-based funnyman is the patron of the Horse Course charity set up by Harriet Laurie of Askerswell.

She has been helping the inmates at Portland Young Offender Institution (YOI) learn skills to break the cycle of offending and incarceration through horsemanship.

It’s been so successful at the YOI she’s now trained three other natural horsemanship specialists to do the same in three other prisons.

She also wanted academic evaluation of its success and asked Professor Rosie Meek of Teeside University and Dr Ann Hemingway from Bournemouth University to see if there was a statistical measure of improvement. They found significant changes in behaviour, as well as impressive feedback from staff, participants and observers.

Their findings show adjudications – the nearest thing to re-offending while in prison – were down 74 per cent and negative entries – lesser offences – were down 72 per cent.

Mr Clunes, patron of the charity along with former South Dorset MP Lord Jim Knight, said: “This evaluation is a hugely empowering endorsement for a charity like this.

“To anyone who hasn’t actually seen the difference The Horse Course makes to people’s lives this provides positive proof that it absolutely works on so many levels.”

Ms Laurie added: “The results show prisoners walking the walk, not just talking the talk, and that we have made a genuine change in behaviour – not just had some feel-good anecdotes.”

Professor Meek said with an average annual cost of £47,137 for each young offender to the state – higher for those frequently involved in disruption and adjudications – Ms Laurie’s course was value for money.

Professor Meek said: “Taking this £47,000 in relation to the total cost of £750 per participant for The Horse Course to operate, suggests that if just one out of every 60 participants who would have reoffended is prevented from doing so in one year, the project will have already more than saved the initial expenditure. The Horse Course aims to teach psychological and emotional self-control with two specially trained horses.

“The horses give reliable and accurate feedback on participants’ calmness and focus and the course is highly structured and challenging.

“It allows participants to develop and test their ability to stay calm under pressure, set goals and stick at them despite frustrations, and to become confident as learners.”