Baylor Builds Lift System to Help Local Disabled onto Horses

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April 14, 2008

by Frank Raczkiewicz

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 get onto the horses much easier. The new system will be presented to the Heart of Texas Therapeutic Riding Center in West at 1 p.m., Friday, April 18.

"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 have to physically put the patients onto the horse, so I thought it was 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."

Garner said the engineering department decided it was a perfect project for the engineering senior design classes. 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 have spent the last 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.

While commercial lift systems can cost up to $10,000, Baylor's system was built for less than $3,500, and it is custom-built for the specific needs of the HOT Riding Center. The structure is located adjacent to the riding stable. It is 16 feet high by 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.

Therapeutic riding works to improve the lives of those with varying abilities through learning riding skills and practicing horse care skills. According to the center, the horse's movement is unique and valuable as a therapeutic tool because it produces three-dimensional rhythmic, repetitive movements which research has shown closely simulates the movements of the human pelvis while walking. The movements and the warmth generated from the horse also promote many physical benefits like increased circulation, development of balance and improved coordination among many others. 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.

For more information, contact Dr. Garner at (254) 710-4191.

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