Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Visual and Performing Arts
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
Industrial and Product Design | Interactive Arts
“Hippos” is the Greek word for horse. “Hippotherapy” literally means treatment with the help of the horse. In this field specially trained, licensed physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech language pathologists use the special nature of a horse to help clients meet their therapy needs. This project investigates the process of making therapeutic progress on horseback. It describes the field of hippotherapy and presents a new saddle design to make the process of therapy more effective. My design process started out with broad user research. Video camera in hand, I went to observe a form of hippotherapy called Adaptive Riding at a local farm. Interviews with parents, patients, therapists and volunteers helped identify problems that could be better. This list ranged from a horse drawn cart that could seat wheelchairs to a stand up mailbox so therapists could use it as a prop during their sessions. Over time the need for a new saddle emerged and became the design direction for the entire project. The horse saddle was chosen for redesign because most saddles have been developed for able-bodied riders doing specific jobs. Working cowboys had specific needs involving roping cattle and pulling loads. Their saddles were specifically designed to meet those needs. English saddles were shaped by a tradition of fox hunting which involves high speeds and jumping fallen objects. Today, adaptive riders do not rope cows nor chase after foxes. Their job is to make personal progress and they could benefit from a saddle designed to help them. The walking motion of the horse moves the rider’s pelvis, ribcage and shoulder girdle in almost the same way as if they were actually walking. This type of movement is called the horse’s “threedimensional swinging gait”. Because of it, a non walking person can experience a close approximation of what it feels like to walk. This is invaluable to adaptive riders with disabilities because they usually do not have access to this quality of exercise. For them the experience of riding can be like giving their system a whole new set of batteries. The type, degree, and quality of the horse’s movements are important because it is these movements that simulate walking for the rider and provide all its associated health benefits. Horses must be trained to have great movements and are thus very expensive. Many therapy institutions do not wish to raise the cost of their services in order to purchase and train such special and expensive horses. Instead they use donated or older horses which have good but not great movements. This leaves a gap between the level of therapy riders get and the level of therapy riders could get if they had a great moving horse. A saddle that is adjustable to provide great movement on a wide variety of horses could exist. A saddle like this would keep costs down for the institution (by not having to buy specially trained horses) and increasing the quality of the therapy for its clients by providing great movement. This thesis documents my design journey towards that goal.
Rogers, Mark, "Horse Saddles for Adaptive Riders" (2006). Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. 639.
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