Student's invention puts autistic children in the saddle

The bond between human and horse dates back thousands of years. Now, thanks to a groundbreaking design, equine therapy could be made available to help autistic children in the comfort of their homes.
Callum Hunter helps Cammy Lamont try out the calming chair he designed for children with autism.Callum Hunter helps Cammy Lamont try out the calming chair he designed for children with autism.
Callum Hunter helps Cammy Lamont try out the calming chair he designed for children with autism.

Callum Hunter, a student at Edinburgh Napier University, has designed ‘U Rock’ – a chair that replicates the movement of a horse when walking as part of his final year project.

Equine therapy is considered an effective therapy for children with autism, with the rhythmic motion of riding a horse helping calm those affected by the condition.

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The chair features a saddle-like seat on three wooden legs which combines springs with a half circle mechanism to allow a child to move gently from side to side, similar to the movement created when riding a horse. It is faced with soft felt and is finished in a soothing colour of green to help create a sense of calm.

Hunter was inspired to design the chair, which is exhibited at the university’s More Than A Degree show at its Merchiston campus, which ends today, after seeing the positive effect that equine therapy had on children affected by autism.

After learning of the challenges faced by families having to travel to centres in rural Scotland and northern England, he decided to pursue his own plans to bring the therapy into the home.

He said: “As part of my research, I visited an equine therapy centre and saw first-hand the positive benefits that this brought in helping calm and relax children whilst they ride.

“I came up with the idea of designing a chair that brings most, if not all, the benefits of the therapy closer to home.

“The chair follows the rhythm of motion you get from riding a horse in an effort to relax a child when they use it – just in the same way that cradling a young baby does. It’s faced with soft material. In equine therapy they often use sheepskin saddles as it helps store heat from the horse better than leather and warmth adds to the comfort of the experience. I’ve tried to make it as realistic as possible.

“The chair is designed with autistic children in mind but it is suitable for all. There is nothing worse than a child being made to sit in a ‘special chair’ so producing something that was inclusive was essential to the project.”

Hunter was brought up in Stow in the Borders, which is still home to his own horse, Oscar. He has ridden since he was young, something that has helped shape his project.

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He added: “I’ve always been around horses, ever since a young age, and I’ve seen first-hand the benefits they can bring to people’s livelihoods. They really are great companions for people.

“However not everyone enjoys horses so the chair could also act as a first step towards equine therapy for those affected by autism. For young children especially, it could be the practice they require before mounting a horse for the first time.

“I wanted to design something that helps families live with autism. Little things can make a massive difference to someone’s day-to-day life and hopefully the chair can do just that.”