A new scheme to help children return to mainstream schooling and gain confidence has been piloted by the British Horse Society (BHS) in Somerset.

The ‘Back on Track’ project began in April this year when 18 children between the ages of eight and 14 — most of whom had been excluded from their schools — took part in a 10-week riding and horse management course.

Chairman of BHS Somerset Sally Whittaker, who co-ordinated the course and attended all the sessions, said it had helped the participants with their behavioural issues, and improved their motivation and social skills.

She said: “Once they had fallen into the routine it was just amazing. The children learned to show respect because it was a pony, rather than an adult, setting the boundaries.”

For one and a half hours each week children from Oakfield and Critchill schools in Frome, Somerset and the Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) at Bridgewater attended Allstone Court in Highbridge or Longhorn Western Riding in Corsley. They were taught how to ride and how to look after horses, including chores such as mucking out and grooming.

“It was a delicate operation,” admitted Ms Whittaker. “We did have one or two episodes of frustration.”

But the pupils from Frome were reported to be more attentive and to ask more questions in class after the course. Two of the children from the PRU have now been integrated back into mainstream school, and two others have chosen to undertake work experience at the stables. Ms Whittaker said that as a result the PRU has agreed to fund more of their pupils to take part in the course.

The project had been given a one-off grant from the Somerset Community Foundation and Local Network fund, but the BHS said more funding from educational authorities and other organisations was needed if the course was to run again.