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Minister for Justice Helen McEntee officially opens the new “Horses of Hope” Equine Centre at Castlerea Prison



  • Prisoners can train in horse husbandry, developing skills for employment in the horse industry post release
  • Innovative partnership between Irish Prison Service and Horse Racing Industry
  • New and progressive rehabilitative and educational addition to Irish Prison Estate



Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD, has today officially opened the new “Horses of Hope” Equine Centre at Castlerea Prison.


The new equine centre has been developed on grounds adjacent to Castlerea Prison and has introduced a new innovative prisoner programme, where prisoners learn practical skills that will assist in securing employment in the equine industry post release. 


The development of the equine centre is the result of an innovative partnership project,  spearheaded by Jonathan Irwin, between the horse racing industry and the Irish Prison Service. Many years ago, Jonathan witnessed first-hand an equine correctional programme in the USA which is premised on the natural affinity between a human and a horse. Evidence from equine programmes internationally demonstrates that people in custody can learn practical skills that can be leveraged for future employment opportunities, foster responsibility and build confidence and self-belief while also developing compassion through the care of animals.


Speaking about the new equine facility Minster McEntee said


I am delighted to be here today to officially open this new equine facility, “Horses of Hope” on the grounds of Castlerea Prison. This is a truly innovative and progressive addition to the prison estate, which will enhance the rehabilitative and employment options for all those who work and train here in the years to come”.


The Minister acknowledged the contribution of the equine industry to the project and said they had an important part to play in the rehabilitation of the prisoners involved, noting that the work to prevent reoffending does not stop at a prison gate on release.


The Minister added;


“Finding and securing meaningful and purposeful work and activity after release from prison is absolutely essential to give people real hope. It gives people the opportunity to have a different, better life for themselves and their families upon release.


This is why this programme, which provides a real pathway to employment and opportunities for the future, is so important.


As Minister for Justice I am committed to preventing and reducing reoffending in our communities, but also helping to divert offenders away from a life of crime. Rehabilitation, training and education for those who are in prison is key to that.



Also speaking at the event on behalf of the equestrian industry Robert Hall said


“I’m so proud that as global leaders on the racecourse and within all equine activities, Ireland should embrace this hugely exciting project. 


This will help broaden our prowess across the full spectrum.  With a syllabus that includes every aspect of responsible horse ownership we can help to reduce reoffending, while also educating a potential workforce.  It also offers a valuable additional purpose for suitable horses and ponies. Indeed, Castlerea can become a worldwide role model”.



For further information contact:


Ciaron McCauley

Irish Prison Service

Ballinalee Road


Co. Longford

  1. 043 3335235
  2. 0876674284







The “Horses of Hope” Equine Unit at Castlerea is a single structure ‘American Stable’ which was complete in early 2020 includes the following:


  • Single stables for 10 horses with integrated Tack Room, Fodder storage and general storage, all to have standard level of fit out i.e. instable water, adequate lighting etc.
  • One Exercise Arena approx. 40 x40 metres sand based cover in wood chip and associated stud fencing.
  • Staff and prisoner facilities with canteen, toilets, changing rooms, showers etc.
  • Large concrete apron for horse boxes to have adequate turning circles etc.
  • Suitable sewage storage and run off from stable and for mucking out stables.
  • Medium level secure perimeter fence with CCTV coverage from Prisons Control room, with intruder alarm.
  • Adequate outside lighting and ancillary services.


While the Centre is located in Castlerea Prison, it is expected prisoners who have engaged positively with constructive activities and are of good behaviour will be considered for AM/PM Temporary Release (TR)  to attend the facility under the supervision of a Work Training Officer.

The Horse Care and Welfare Programme has been developed in association with the Racing Academy and Centre for Education (RACE) and Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) as a stepping stone in developing a career with horses.


The programme is a three month programme covering eight modules including:


Module 1

Horse Behaviour and Safe Handling

Module 2

Horse Health

Module 3

Grooming, Tack and Rugs

Module 4

Care of the Stabled Horse and Grass Kept Horses

Module 5

Feeding Horses

Module 6

Hoof Care

Module 7

Illness and Disease

Module 8

First Aid


The Programme is delivered in the Castlerea Prison School with practical experience in the Equine Unit. The Programme is delivered using voice over instruction and graphical material which helps those with literacy issues.