Blazing Saddles

Designers: Fernando Iglesia, Wade Sidley, Shin Chang

Client Coordinator: Margie Muenzer, PT, North Carolina Therapeutic Riding Center

Supervising Professors: Kevin Caves and Richard Goldberg


Therapeutic horseback riding is a technique that uses the motion of riding a horse to build strength, and improve trunk tone and muscular endurance as well as balance and posture.  Used in conjunction with dexterity exercises, such as holding the reigns, therapeutic riding is a powerful tool.  Our client has spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy and he uses therapeutic riding to improve his trunk strength, posture, coordination and dexterity. However, our client does not have the trunk tone to balance on the saddle without leaning forward or to one side.  In addition, our client becomes very nervous when attempting to straighten his posture because he feels as if he will fall off the back of the saddle.  As such, while he rides, he needs to have his legs and ankles held down by assistants to help him balance and feel safe.

In order to provide the client with more independence and safety while riding, we developed several saddle attachments.  A raised, horizontal bar connects to the front of the saddle.  By gripping onto this bar, the client has additional support and sits more upright while riding.  A back support connects to the rear of the saddle.  It provides physical support and makes the client feel safer. Both attachments are adjustable, so they can be used for other riders.  In addition, the attachments are removable and do not alter the original saddle in any way.


Our device enables our client, as well as other horseback riders with postural issues, to ride with greater support and confidence than afforded by conventional saddle designs.  The physical therapist at the riding center said: “Without the device, he’s tense through his body and he’s putting a lot of weight through his arms because he’s feeling pretty insecure in the saddle. With the new attachments, it lightens him up and he’s able to sit up and look around a lot better and able to reach things much more confidently and easily, so I think it’ll really enable him to enjoy his riding and be more functional.”


Our project consists of two separate, removable attachments to a saddle that are designed to help our client with balancing and posture while horseback riding.

The raised bar attachment consists of a base, made from an aluminum plate, and an adjustable bar structure.  The base slides underneath the top layer of the saddle, and the rider’s weight and Velcro straps hold it in place.  The bar structure consists of four bars in a rectangular shape.  There are two horizontal bars, made from steel conduit pipes, and four connector joints.  The two vertical bars are telescoping tubes with spring pins (adapted from crutches) that can be lifted in 1-inch intervals to accommodate a variety of horseback riders.  The top bar is covered by tennis grip tape and two cut open tennis balls cover the top connector joints, which provides a gripping location and covers sharp edges for safety reasons.  The result of the design is a handlebar that is sufficiently rigid and strong enough to support the client pushing on it in order to support himself while horseback riding.  There is ample padding in the saddle, so that neither the rider nor the horse can feel the metal base that is inserted in the saddle.

The backrest consists of a cushion that is mounted to a supporting structure.  This structure is made from two plywood boards connected at a right angle using 4 corner brackets along the back. The cushion itself was taken from an Otto Bock wheelchair headrest with the metal supports cut to size.  The entire structure is 6” long and 9” wide. The height of the backrest can be adjusted from a minimum of 9¼” to a maximum of 13½”. The backrest is designed to fit into the saddle by sliding under the back cushion. The backrest cushion can be moved up and down the metal supports it by loosening screws and manually sliding the cushion.

The total cost of this project is $384.

Comments are closed.