A DORSET woman who set up a horse therapy organisation to help people with their mental health and other challenges has been awarded an MBE in the King's New Year Honours.

Harriet Laurie, from Askerswell near Bridport, set up TheHorseCourse in 2010, which has since helped thousands of people to improve their mental health and have better life chances.

The charity, which is championed by actor Martin Clunes, is now based in Weymouth and helps more than 600 people with complex challenges and needs each year.

Harriet's original vision for the charity involved her horses Flower and Stormy, a group of young offenders on Portland and a lot of optimism about the benefits that interacting with horses could have on troubled people.

In recognition of the significant impact, she has had on not just her own community but all around the UK, she has been awarded an MBE.

Dorset Echo: Harriet and her team at the Weymouth HQHarriet and her team at the Weymouth HQ (Image: Robin Mills)

Harriet said: "My own life experience has taught me that anyone at any time can suffer from a whole range of difficulties from paralysing fear to mild social confusion, and talk-based therapies, whilst incredibly helpful for many, are not always the answer.

"For some people talking is difficult, for others it feels useful but ends up going around in circles.

"With the horses I realised that you could set sessions up in such a way that people could learn to 'target' calmness in their own bodies and, with the right training, the horses would give them feedback about when they got it right.

"Figuring this out was a revelation for me in my own emotional self-management and was something I wanted to bring to others who might benefit."

By chance Harriet started experimenting with this idea in prisons, but 'it was obvious that although extremely effective with violent young men, there was potential for young people and families as well.'

She added: "I have been incredibly lucky to gain the attention of various universities, who have now proven the value of The Horse Course programme, and to build a staff team who do an incredible job of delivering the programme in Weymouth and training others to run centres all over the UK and abroad.

"We have developed a wonderful site with horses, hens and horticulture as the context to help more than 700 Dorset people each year, when all else has failed.

"I am really touched to be awarded an MBE  I do wish it didn't reference the Empire as that isn't something I celebrate  but as a mark of the difference that we are making as a team, in our community, I am very proud to accept it."

The Horse Course relies on grants and donations to keep going as the income from Dorset Council, NHS and Schools is only partial.

If you would like to donate to the charity, visit: https://www.paypal.com/GB/fundraiser/charity/2444307, https://www.facebook.com/TheHorseCourse, or https://www.justgiving.com/thehorsecourse.