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Uplifting Engineering

May 27, 2008

While therapeutic horse riding works to improve the quality of life for children and adults with physical and mental impairments, just getting some patients onto the horse can be a major obstacle. But now, Baylor University researchers have built a custom "lift system" to help those with physical and mental impairments mount the horses much easier. The new system was presented to the Heart of Texas Therapeutic Riding Center (HOTTRC) in mid-April. The facility is located 16 miles north of campus near West, Texas.

"We were conducting other research with the Riding Center when it was mentioned that one of their most significant needs was one of these systems," said Dr. Brian Garner, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Baylor. "They had to physically put the patients onto the horse, so I thought it was the perfect project for our graduating seniors and a way to give back to our community. It will also allow more patients to take advantage of therapeutic riding who couldn't before."

Therapeutic riding can help children and adults with various impairments or delays in development, including those with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, Down syndrome and autism.

A truly interdisciplinary team effort, the project brought together the entire engineering department's graduating seniors, with each bringing their unique mechanical and electrical engineering skills. The 31 students spent three months designing, building and testing the lift system on-site at the Riding Center.

"This wouldn't have happened without each department pitching in," said Yasaman Shirazi-Fard, a senior mechanical engineering student from Stamford, Conn., who is leading the project for her class. "For most of our four-year degree we students solve problems on paper, and it's now very exciting to do something that will serve a real benefit for people's lives."

The stationary lift system is comprised of a harness attached to a hoist-and-boom system that can move vertically and horizontally. The system is electromechanical, which means it does not contain hydraulics, and it is remote controllable, which allows it to be operated by only one person.

Shirley Wills, BS '74, director of HOTTRC, has desired a lift since the center's opening in 2000, but the costs were prohibitive. With grants from Waco Junior League and Hiclo Electric Co-Op, Wills said that HOTTRC was able to cover the cost of the materials. Baylor's participation saved HOTTRC over $6,500: similar commercial lifts retail for $10,000 or more.

At least half a dozen children utilize the facility on a weekly basis, but with the lift now in operation and the onset of summer, Wills says more children and adults will now be able to take advantage of the facility.

An added bonus is that since the lift is fully operational via remote control by a single person, the need for multiple trainers to help those in therapy mount and dismount the horses has been eliminated.

In a show of confidence in the students' work, a few professors took a ride in the lift, including 6-foot-5 Dr. Ben Kelley, dean of the School of Engineering and Computer Science, and Dr. Bill Jordan, chair of mechanical engineering, who agreed that this senior project was the best they had seen.

The lift is 16 feet high and 11 feet long, allowing the horse to pull up on either the left or right side of the hoist system depending if the rider is mounting or demounting. It can safely move a person weighing more than 350 pounds.

For more information on the HOTTRC, visit www.hottrc.org.

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