HORSES are helping youngsters at risk of antisocial behaviour, truanting and crime to get back on the straight and narrow.

Thea Garwood, 16, had already been excluded from two secondary schools and was barely attending classes at her third.

But then her teachers at Downlands School in Hassocks put her in touch with Parkfield Equine Solutions.

The charity uses horses to help teenagers at risk of antisocial behaviour to engage.

Thea, of Haywards Heath, said: “I couldn’t stay focused at school, I wasn’t going in.

“I was getting involved in antisocial behaviour and hanging around with the wrong people and it had a negative impact.”

But after taking part in a series of sessions looking after horses, Thea learned she had to remain calm and in control of her emotions around the animals.

It helped her develop skills useful for other areas of her life.

Since taking the course she has not missed a single day of school.

The project, which also takes horses into prisons in some parts of the country, has help people gain control of their emotions.

Terri Martinus, from the charity, said: “Where people have worked with horses we have seen a 27 per cent reduction in reoffending.

“We run five-day intensive courses, there is one pupil, one facilitator and one horse.

“It teaches resilience skills.

“When you feel calm the horse will feel calm.

“With horses there is no agenda. They cannot lie.

“On the last day of the course the students are given a certificate which gives them a real sense of achievement.”

Thea said: “It really did help a lot.

“I didn’t think it would work at first.

“I went in petrified of horses, I still am a bit, but when you get in there you realise how much you have to stay calm.

“Being calm and learning to focus does help. I’ve been at school every day since.”

Pupils are referred by their schools or social services and typically have serious problems such as ADHD, self-harm, bullying, domestic violence and mental health problems.

They are referred because they “disengaged” from traditional talking-based support.

Thea said: “You talk to teachers, parents, other grown ups, but this is very different.

“Horses don’t talk and you have to change your behaviour with them.”