Baylor University researchers have devised a mechanical horse that can provide hippotherapy for children and adults with physical and mental impairments without them having to mount a real horse.
This advancement attains significance as it will remove the difficulty that therapists often face while getting some patients onto the horse.
"Our vision is that the mechanical horse can provide better access and can act as a complementary tool to actual therapeutic horse riding," Science Daily quoted Dr. Brian Garner, a biomechanics expert who is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, as saying.
"If the patient is afraid of horses or it may not be safe for the patient to ride a horse, the mechanical horse can act as stepping stone to build the patient up to a level of stability so they can get onto a live horse," he added.
Hippotherapy repetitively produces three-dimensional rhythmic movements that, according to preliminary research, simulates the movements of the human pelvis while walking. It promotes many physical benefits like increased circulation, development of balance and improved coordination.
Scientists believe that 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.
Dr. Garner insists that the prototype mechanical horse developed at Baylor University mimics a real horse by using a three-dimensional system.
The device, though stationary, has a moving saddle surface that can move in virtually all directions in a cycling pattern, and, thus, replicates as precisely as possible the movements of an actual horse.
For creating it, Baylor engineering students took video-motion photography of several real horses walking, and used the data to create the mechanical horses' movement patterns.
Garner says that the mechanical horse can also differ in speed, from a slow walking pace to a fast walking pace, and is the width of a normal horse.
He adds said that it can be used with or without a saddle and can simulate bare-back riding. According to him, the saddle also simulates real therapeutic riding saddles that have adjustable handle bars.
He and his colleagues will next study the biomechanics of hippotherapy using the horse.