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Biomedical Engineering Seniors Continue Providing Valuable Equine Therapeutic Devices to Those with Special Needs

Tuesday, June 03, 2014
Hope Haven The Right Angle

The Right Angle: Lauren Reberger (bottom) and Chelsea Cpenhaver make adjustments to the Foot Angle Stirrups device that provides feedback to keep horse riders properly adjusted for hippotherapy sessions. (Photos by Chris Minnick)

Smiles were present all around Hope Haven Horse Farm's stable in central Indiana as, for the second straight year, Rose-Hulman biomedical engineering students provided innovative equine therapeutic devices to help people with special needs to gain independence, increase self-confidence, and improve physical skills.

"We're helping others. What's better than that?" asks Lauren Reberger, a 2014 biomedical engineering graduate.

Classmate Kandice Cobb adds, "It's great to work on something that's going to make a difference in other's lives. It gives the project more meaning."

Three equine therapeutic projects were completed this academic year as part of senior-year capstone design projects in Rose-Hulman's Department of Biology and Biomedical Engineering. They were:

Lower Body Positioning Feedback: A two-part device provides lower body positioning feedback during hippotherapy sessions for a horse rider with disabilities, ranging from traumatic brain injuries to cerebral palsy. The Pressure Pad Saddle monitors the correct stature of the rider on the horse, while the Foot Angle Stirrups insures the rider's correct weight distribution. A constant centered position insures that core muscle groups are being used properly during therapy sessions, increases rider comfort for longer sessions, and keeps a rider from falling off a horse. Instructors can also use the device to record client progress and training habits to improve future sessions. The device was designed by Chelsea Copenhaver, Malorie Piland, Anna Mommer, and Reberger.

Hope Haven Stabilizing Rider

Stabilizing Rider: Kandice Cobb (top, middle) and Lauren Meadows (back to camera) show Hope Haven Horse Farm staff members how to apply the Therapeutic Saddle device for hippotherapy sessions.

Therapeutic Saddle: This device provides substantial back and side support during hippotherapy sessions for students with physical limitations. It also provides ease-of-entry and modification for different riders. This adjustable therapeutic saddle will allow someone with a disability to experience the most comfortable therapy session possible. The device was designed and fabricated by Lauren Meadows and Cobb.

Mechanical Horse Head: This device helps patients who tend to exert too much force on the horse's reigns during sessions. It can accentuate last year's iHorse simulation device, working in tandem to simulate the movement of a horse while walking. It teaches riders proper rein technique and helps make a successful transition to riding horses. The device was designed by Daniel Maginot, Cory Pardieck, and Fiona Shine.

Also, graduate student Melissa Montgomery came back this year to make substantial improvements to the iHorse simulator. Part mechanical, electrical, and high-tech, the device features eight ribs that work in tandem to simulate the movement of a horse 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.

Hope Haven Simulating Horse Movements

Simulating Horse Movements: Students Daniel Maginot (right), Cory Pardieck, and Fiona Shine (back to camera) show how their Mechanical Horse Head device could supplement the iHorse simulator created by Melissa Montgomery (red shirt).

"It's a better horse," says Montgomery. "It was great to come back and work on the project from a different perspective."

Hope Haven Horse Farm officials anticipate these devices will improve equine therapeutic 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.

"These projects are simply amazing. There's nothing like them in the world, and they will change the way we help our patients," says Christina Menke, Hope Haven Farm's founder and executive director. "They're accelerating change in the equine therapy industry."

The Tony Stewart Foundation has provided financial assistance for the projects this year, according to Menke.

Faculty members serving as mentors for this year's department projects were Kay C Dee, Glen Livesay, and Renee Rogge.