Therapy With Horses in Prison Environments

What is this?

The goal of therapy with horses in prison environments is to bring a sense of calm, and create, or recreate, social ties by using the animal as a mediator. The animal calms, builds trust, creates a sense of responsibility and eases the prisoner’s reinsertion into society.

There are three major types of therapy using animals in prison environments: using visiting dogs, using small animals (rodents, ferrets, hamsters etc…) and using horses.


The broad goals of therapy with animals in prison environments:

During the 2013 Therapy Equimeeting, clinical psychologist Jessie Ansorgue Jeunier, introduced the broad-base goals of animal therapy in three categories:

Making prisons more human: Animals make prisons more human, more welcoming, warmer. Cut off from contact with animals, the prisoner experiences yet another type of incarceration. Bringing animals into prisons is like bringing in a little of outside life.

Fighting off depersonalization: The rules and regulations governing prison life result in prisoners adopting a stronger character. Faced with animals, however, it is not possible to cheat, and people will revert to and show their true self.

Creating a calmer prison environment: Animal therapy work is carried out with the cooperation of both the prisoners and prison staff: In the midst of this group, animals reduce tension and make communications more human.

Prison Organization

Remand Prisons: These are for people awaiting trial or serving sentences of less than two years.

Detention Facilities: For those serving sentences longer than two years.

Central Prisons: For prisoners serving long sentences or at particular risk. The organization and running of these prisons is principally focused on security.

 Penitentiary Centers: Mixes establishments regrouping several categories.

 Juvenile Facilities: As indicated in their name, these are facilities for prisoners who are minor.

Each type of facility has different goals.

Remand prisons have goals that are more focused on education, responsibility and reinsertion.

Detention facilities have, as their main goal, re-socialization, making prisoners communicate more calmly, reducing tension, and preventing suicide risk.

Central prisons focus their goals on rehabilitation, helping detainees to get back a sense of self, and even to help them build new life goals so as to avoid reoffending.

Equine therapy is being used in five prison sites in France (Rennes, Fleury Mérogis, Besançon, Poissy and Arles) in different ways: grooming, working on foot, ridden work, driving.


Camargue Horses and Men

The “Camargue Horses and Men” equine therapy program was set up at the Arles central prison in 2010. The project was spearheaded by psychologist Thiery Boissin working with the Hugo B association. It was born out of a discussion with the facility and inspired by the need to offer an activity in tune with the issues inherent to a prison environment.

Incarceration, isolation, the lack of sensory input and “social hierarchy” are all factors that can create a climate of tension both between prisoners and between prisoners and prison guards, which is not in tune with the rehabilitation work that is the prison staff’s mission.

The use of Camargue horses within this framework creates ties through the horses. The horse’s non judgmental character nurtures work on how others see us, and how we see others, as well as how we see ourselves and how we act.

Through its symbolic significance, the horse encourages us to look into our own history and into our cultural reference points..

The horses used in this framework are Camargue horses, one of the 24 breeds of working horse that make up SFET, and very closely tied with the region of southern France that gives them their name. They are raised in total freedom, with minimal human intervention. These living conditions preserve their natural instincts and their instinctive reactions. The horses are trained by their owner, Sandrine Nicolas.


Presentation by Jessie Ansorge Jeunier – Therapy Equimeeting 2013


Study of a case of animal therapy in a prison environment by Fondation A and P Sommer

Ministry of Justice


For More information about : Therapy With Horses in Prison Environments

Study of a case of animal therapy in a prison environment by Fondation A & P Sommer

“Camargue Horses and Men” (French Only)


Ministry of Justice:



Hugo B Association



Video: France 2/Envoyé Spécial/Hélène Gateau


Jessie Ansorge-Jeunier – Equimeeting 2013 – Animal Therapy : The exemple of the prison environment