A new qualification in horse care for children with special educational needs has been launched by a Devon school.

Tavistock College’s horse and pony care certificate was drawn up with help from an equine vet.

Students begin by learning the name and colour of the horse or pony they are handling, move on learn how to safety approach the horse and feed it a treat and then are instructed in how to care for the horse and identify signs of ill health.

Since April teacher Helen Harris, who is also district commissioner of the Lamerton Hunt Branch of the Pony Club, has run weekly lessons for special needs students as part of the school’s syllabus.

She said: “We are extremely proud to have introduced this course. I don’t know of another school doing anything like it.

“The programme is all hands-on and students will receive a formal Key Stage 3 certificate at level one or two, which can lead to a BTEC in animal care.”

Mrs Harris said she got the idea for the course after reading how autistic children can react positively to horses because they are responsive but not aggressive animals.

If successful, the syllabus could be rolled out to other schools and professionals working with autistic children.

Wiltshire racehorse rescue charity Greatwood also provides qualifications for autistic students on its Horse Power programme.

The Open College Network accredited course covers the care of rescued horses and ponies and provides opportunities for students to develop self care skills, so increasing their life chances.