Equine therapist calls for businesses to employ offenders

The founder of a charity that offers equine therapy to serving and former prisoners has called for employers to change their attitudes to offenders.

Eva Hamilton’s Key4Life also works with people thought to be at risk of going to prison, and aims to prevent re-offending and help participants get back into work.

Ms Hamilton told H&H that having run charities previously, and always ridden herself, she came up with the idea after the London riots of 2011.

“I thought ‘it’s time to do something about this’,” she said. “I wanted to do something that combined all my learning with my own experiences. I’d had a horrible crash that year, and the only time I felt I had strength was when I was with the horses.”

Key4Life takes horses into prisons, and Ms Hamilton said one of her first experiences of this was with a group of gang members.

“They were absolutely out of control,” she said. “I had military people with me who said ‘forget it, you’ve taken on too much’. I said ‘give me half an hour’.

“We took the horses in and the next minute, these kids who’d been showing no respect were hiding behind furniture.”

Ms Hamilton said the horses help “unlock” negative emotions in the participants, who often respect them, having never felt respect before. They work with the horses on the ground and ridden.

Some have then gone on to the Northern Racing School – one of whom has just secured a job with a trainer – while others have also felt the benefit.

“More than 60% of people who come through the programme are in employment a year later,” Ms Hamilton said. “Our re-offending rate is also about 14 to 15%, compared to the national rate of 64%, a year later – and we’re dealing with some of the toughest people in the system.”

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Ms Hamilton said she thinks the horses’ sheer physical size is a factor in instilling respect, as well as intrigue.

“And once they ride, they can’t get enough,” she added. “Contact with the horses calms them down, it’s a connection.”

The challenge with former offenders, Ms Hamilton said, is often the stigma.

“We want people to hire them,” she said. “The biggest challenge is to stop people judging; a lot would say ‘lock them up and throw away the key’ because they don’t think offenders can be redeemed.

“If I went to my grave knowing I’d helped change attitudes, I’d feel I’d done something really good.”

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