Below the high gray walls of County Roscoeman’s Medium Security Prison, stables and horses allow prisoners to learn practical skills, such as cultivating a special sympathy for animals.
By following the course “Horse of Hope” – a name created by the prisoners themselves – prisoners will receive a certificate approved in Ireland for the care of horses.
At the request of Irish prison authorities, an unnamed prisoner said: “This will be a life-changing opportunity.
The 20-year-old, who has been jailed for years for a violent crime, says he wants to “seize the opportunity” with both hands.
“In the end, if we do well, there might be a job to fill on a farm,” he says after taking his first three weeks of classes.
“It’s relaxing. You can not walk into the barn with a horse you do not know. Hope everything goes well. You need to gain their trust,” he says.
– Jobs –
The program, which is distributed in collaboration with the Penitentiary Services and the equestrian sector, lasts more than 12 weeks, during which student inmates learn how to decorate horses and how to handle barns and basic animal husbandry.
After similar experiments began in the United States and Australia, studies have shown that prisoners who learn to care for horses in this framework can find work in the equestrian world, according to the Irish government, if released.
The launch of the program would not have been possible without Jonathan Irwin, who has been working in horse racing for decades. Thirty years ago, after visiting a similar facility in the United States, he decided to introduce such training to Irish prisoners.
In his opinion, it took 26 years for the program to take hold in Ireland. “I started writing to all the justice ministers, but most did not answer me because they thought I was crazy,” he told AFP.
– “Take control of your life” –
For the event, the Irish equestrian community raised more than ,000 100,000 to fund the “Horse of Hope”, and Jonathan Irwin now hopes to expand the project, including the expansion of a stable that can accommodate up to ten horses.
Already, he says, the program is bearing fruit: “The greater the intimacy between the horse and the prisoner, the more the prisoner relaxes.”
“It already makes a difference,” he says. “There’s a feeling of excitement, something happens, everything is different,” he rejoices.
Inaugurating the center on Wednesday, Irish Justice Minister Helen McKenzie said such an initiative “should make Ireland a leader in this area”, especially because of the country’s important position in the world of equestrianism.
“It is important that there are opportunities for reconciliation so that people can admit that mistakes have been made and have the opportunity to bring their lives back,” the minister added.
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