Equine therapy saddle wins national design award

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Holly Wright with her award-winning Contak saddle.
Holly Wright’s Contak is a specialist saddle for use in equine therapies offered by the Riding for the Disabled (RDA) organisation.

A specialist saddle created for disabled horse riders has won a young New Zealand designer the James Dyson Award for 2018.

Holly Wright’s Contak is a specialist saddle for use in equine therapies offered by the Riding for the Disabled (RDA) organisation. It focuses on rider safety and experience, bringing the rider closer to the horse to optimise the therapeutic benefits.

Research has shown that engagement with a large, responsive animal such as a horse encourages physical movement, social engagement and educational benefits through physical activity in disabled people. Current equipment used by therapeutic riding centres relies on adapted traditional saddlery which has remained unchanged for many years and largely mirrors used by able-bodied riders. No specialised equipment has been developed which can lead to issues of stability and a lack of connection and focus for physically or mentally disabled riders.

Wright designed the Contak saddle while studying Industrial Design at Massey University. She undertook extensive field research when developing her design including observation and participation in therapy sessions at RDA, discussions with industry experts, saddlers, physical and occupational therapists, experienced volunteers and human kinesiologists. After undertaking a rigorous sketch modelling process Holly then moved to extensive prototyping and material testing. The final prototype was successfully trialed by the local RDA.

Holly Wright will put the prize money from the James Dyson Foundation towards the manufacture of a small run of prototype saddles for testing.
Holly Wright will put the prize money from the James Dyson Foundation towards the manufacture of a small run of prototype saddles for testing.

The Contak saddle focuses on the connection between horse and rider. Increased surface area provides even distribution of the rider’s weight ensuring the performance, movement and comfort for both horse and rider are not compromised. The streamlined design fosters visual connection with the horse, increases the opportunity for physical touch and reduces bulk under the rider’s leg, improving stability and safety. Handles in place of traditional reins accommodate differing abilities and a secondary handle enables assistance from a safety side walker for faster paced sessions.

Winning the national leg of the James Dyson Award will inject $3500 into the development of her design. She plans to continue collaboration with local RDA centres to develop the saddle further.

Prize money from the James Dyson Foundation will aid the manufacture of a small run of prototype saddles for testing, and market research suggests that the saddle will find a niche international market.

The streamlined design of the Contak saddle fosters visual connection with the horse, increases the opportunity for physical touch and reduces bulk under the rider’s leg, improving stability and safety.
The streamlined design of the Contak saddle fosters visual connection with the horse, increases the opportunity for physical touch and reduces bulk under the rider’s leg, improving stability and safety.

“Although involved in recreational riding I had no prior experience in the therapeutic use of horses, but recognised an opportunity to improve safety and therapy benefit through a new saddle design,” Wright said.

“I am delighted to have won the 2018 James Dyson National Award. Moving forward, I want to continue collaboration with local RDA centres to develop the saddle further and hope to present Contak at the bi-annual therapeutic riding conference in South East Asia in late 2019.”

Holly Wright with her award-winning Contak saddle.
Holly Wright with her award-winning Contak saddle.

The runners-up for the awards were:

Ana Morris, Courtney Naismith and Glen Askey, who are studying Industrial Design at Victoria University of Wellington. They developed Medmo, a digital healthcare system designed to mitigate the nuisance of managing medical drains and the chance of life-threatening infections. It monitors fluid levels and notifies patients and caregivers through a wearable device and an app.

Georgia Fulton created Sowsense while studying a Bachelor of Design, majoring in Industrial Design at Massey University. The  invention saves piglet from being crushing by sows. It works by using sensory technology to increase piglet survival rates and train the sow to prevent further crushings. Farmers are able to keep the pigs outside on the farm safely, encouraging farmers to shift away from controversial indoor systems.

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