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Biomedical Engineering Seniors Provide Equine Therapeutic Devices to Help Former Student, Others with Special Needs

May 23, 2013

        Satisfying Project
  Satisfying Project: Melissa Montgomery smiles while watching former Rose-Hulman student Drew Christy ride the iHorse Simulator that was one of three projects completed by senior biomedical engineering students this school year. (Photo by Chris Minnick)

A thumb’s up signal from Drew Christy brought a smile to the faces of Rose-Hulman biomedical engineering seniors that contributed three equine therapeutic devices to help people with special needs to gain independence, self-confidence, and physical skills.

“This is better than any ‘A’ on a final exam…this is real-world and will make a difference to people that we have grown to care about,” says Melissa Montgomery as she watched Christy ride an iHorse Simulator device that replicates the hip motion and core muscle activity experienced when a person rides a horse.

Christy was once one of them. He was a sophomore biomedical engineering student and former football player when he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a February 2008 car crash while travelling home to enjoy a break in the academic year. He was given a 1 percent survival rate, spent five months in a coma, and a total of nine months in the hospital.

Now, thanks to physical rehabilitation efforts, he can ride a horse unassisted at the Hope Haven Horse Farm, an Indiana non-profit equine therapy organization dedicated to promoting growth, learning, hope, and opportunities for at-risk and special needs persons. And, he has started walking therapy at an Indianapolis health care facility.

Putting Helmet                  
Making Adjustments: Senior biomedical engineering students Tanya Colonna, Creasy Clauser, and Alex Schwier get valuable feedback from horse rider Will Crane on The Stable-izer, a device that detects when the rider is leaning away from the vertical position. (Photo by Chris Minnick)

“Drew has come a long way, thanks to the encouragement of so many people, including these Rose-Hulman students,” says Drew’s mother, Debbi. “He (Drew) just lights up when he’s around them. He believes he’s back at Rose-Hulman.”

The iHorse Simulator is part mechanical, electrical, and high-tech. It features eight ribs that work in tandem to simulate the movement of a horse while walking, while controlled by a motor and complex series of bicycle chains. The simulated walking speed can be modified to best fit a patient’s needs. Montgomery joined Nicole Richardson and Jacki Simon in working more than 1,500 hours on the project, which brought together all lessons learned from four years of courses at Rose-Hulman.

“Knowing that Drew and others needed this device kept us focused and committed to producing the best project we could,” states Montgomery.

Other capstone projects completed for Hope Haven this school year included a new therapeutic saddle, a custom-made device that provides back, hand, and leg support for riders participating in equine-assisted therapy; and The Stable-izer, a device that detects when the horse rider is leaning away from the vertical position and sounds an alert when the rider needs assistance to correct his or her posture.

         Watching Ryder
  Happy Rider & Students: Seniors Candice Sandberg, Peter Moorman, and Michael Boyer watch as horse rider Will Crane tests a custom-made therapeutic saddle being used at the Hope Haven Horse Farm. (Photo by Chris Minnick)

Hope Haven Farm officials hope these devices will take the farm and other equine therapy centers in a direction of therapeutic riding research. The non-profit organization uses innovative and responsive equine assisted techniques, both on and off the horse, to improve the confidence, self-esteem, and physical mobility of the people served.

“There’s nothing like this available in any place in the country. Others have heard about these projects and are anxious to learn more about how they can be adapted for them and their patients,” says Christina Menke, Hope Haven Farm’s founder and executive director. “These projects will revolutionize the use of equine therapy and further impact our clients.”

Students working on the new therapeutic saddle were Candice Sandberg, Peter Moorman, and Michael Boyer. Meanwhile, the Stable-izer was completed by Creasy Clauser, Alex Schwier, and Tanya Colonna.