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Horseback beds PDF Print E-mail

What is a horseback bed?

A horseback bed is a metal structure pulled by two horses or ponies. The client lies head forward on a height-adjustable canvas hammock stretched above the horses’ backs. The hammock just touches the backs, so that when the horses walk, they give the client a unique massage. There is a hood covering the entire structure, similar to a covered wagon. A hoist can be fitted in the hood that serves to lift adults into the horseback bed. The driver’s seat is at the back, with room next to the driver for an attendant. The attendant decides the speed, along with the person using the horseback bed. Some prefer a slower pace, and others like to go faster. The horses always remain in a walk, however.

Horseback-bed riding is soothing and gives clients a warm feeling. It generally helps them relax in a way that few other therapies can equal. It has been claimed that there is no better medicine for some patients. I recently visited a riding school that worked with horseback beds, and the staff had just removed a client from the carriage who had fallen asleep. I think that says enough!  

The first horseback beds

The first horseback beds of the type just described were simple in design, and unsafe. Although the beds were adjustable, it took a lot of time and effort to do so. Adjustability was so limited that the same team of horses had to be used time and again. The original carriages had double caster wheels at the front, which the horses found difficult to push through sand. Safety was also a problem. With no partition between the horses’ hind legs and the driver, a bucking or kicking horse posed a serious risk. It was also difficult to release the horses if they took fright or started to buck, placing the client at risk.

Our horseback bed

Our horseback bed represents a considerable improvement on most other models in several ways. It is more user-friendly and safe.

User-friendly

First of all, it is much kinder to the horses. It takes almost no effort for horses to pull the Type 1 horseback bed forward or around a bend. That is because we have moved the wheels at the front of the carriage to the back. The long shaft functions as a kind of lever. The carriage can be adjusted in its entirety to the horses’ length and the height of their withers. The finishing ensures that the horses cannot bruise or injure themselves. For example, we have covered the parts alongside the wheels with wire mesh so that the horses cannot get their legs caught between the spokes.

Second, it is much kinder to clients. Because the driver can quickly adjust the bed by operating a simple handle, the amount of pressure that the client places on the horse’s back is infinitely variable.

Third, it is much easier for drivers. Drivers can adjust the bed above the horses' back from their seat. They can also quickly and easily make adjustments to accommodate horses of different sizes. In fact, the entire carriage can be operated from the driver’s seat. To stabilise the carriage and prevent the bed from tipping while a client is being placed in it, the driver can lower a brace at the front of the carriage without leaving his or her seat.

Safety

The horses’ safety: As mentioned above, there is nothing that horses can injure or bruise themselves on. Because the wheels are screened off at the sides and back by wire mesh, the horses cannot get their legs caught between them.

The client’s safety: There is a risk that a client will be injured or fall off if the horses begin to buck or kick. We have taken extra safety measures to prevent this. The driver need only step on an emergency pedal to release the horses, removing the client from danger.

The driver’s safety: The driver and horse are separated by a wire mesh partition. This means that the driver will never run the risk of falling between the horse and the carriage, as has happened with the older model.

Safety while positioning and removing clients: While a client is being removed or placed on the bed, the driver can operate an electrically-powered brace from his seat that stabilises the carriage at the front. The carriage is also fitted with an emergency brake on the two large wheels. These can also be operated from the driver’s seat, so that the carriage is very stable while clients are being placed on the bed or removed. 

The aim

The horseback bed was designed specifically for people with multiple disabilities. Age is unimportant, although we do not advise it for children younger than one. People with multiple disabilities are often limited in their mobility. They frequently suffer from epilepsy and they are often spastic (their muscles are stretched excessively). They also often suffer from pulmonary problems, kidney and bowel malfunction, and generally poor circulation. Riding on a horseback bed brings the disabled person into physical contact with the two horses. Their bodily warmth and movement massages the client and has an exceptionally positive effect on the disorders listed above. The intense massage that they receive gets blood flowing through all their organs, and they relax completely. As a result, their bowel function improves, they may have fewer epileptic seizures, and their lungs are cleared of mucus. Their body temperature increases. People who have spinal cord injuries, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and back complaints find that their condition improves after horseback-bed riding. They can often reduce their intake of gastrointestinal medicines.

The rides last thirty minutes. We have learned that this is the right amount of time. Shorter rides diminish the effect of the massage, and longer ones are tiring for the client. 

What is unique about our improvement is that we have moved the front caster wheels to the back and moved the back wheels to immediately behind the horse. The weight is therefore evenly distributed across the length of the carriage, with slightly more weight at the back depending on the number of persons on board. The maximum number is the driver and two attendants (although usually there is only the driver and one attendant), so that the pressure on the caster wheel is much lower than it is on other models. It is also easier for the carriage to go round bends, as described above (lever effect). In our current model, half of the total weight is on the front wheels. We believe this is the most important improvement. We have also replaced the harness by a push bar. The horses therefore no longer have belts across their backs.This makes it more user-friendly for clients, who often have very sensitive skin (vulnerable to bedsores).