UWRF student’s innovation helps paraplegic horseback riders

Posted October 11, 2016

When UW-River Falls senior Shanna Burris, an equine management major, got accepted into the McNair Scholars Program, she knew she wanted to help paraplegic horseback riders.

Her first step was to survey para riders to find out what they needed the most. Then she created a hoist that can lift a saddle onto a horse.

Other obstacles paraplegic riders may face when getting ready to ride a horse are already taken care of with wheelchair ramps and lifts to place them on the animals. However, without Burris’ hoist, these riders need someone else to maneuver the saddles for them.

“Knowing this population and knowing some of the struggles that they go through trying to tack up their own horse and how beneficial riding is to them, I wanted to figure out a way to make it more accessible and help them be more independent,” Burris said.

Burris is a non-traditional student. She has worked in health care for many years and was inspired by the many lifts used to move patients.

Her research and the hoist were presented at a symposium at the University of California-Berkeley this past summer.

Dean Olson, the associate dean of the College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences at UW-River Falls, was Burris’ mentor and advisor on the project. Olson also is an associate professor of agricultural engineering.

While working together, Olson saw Burris apply what he had taught her in an Introduction to Agricultural Engineering course. They created the hoist for less than $150 and used mostly spare parts from the Agricultural Engineering Department.

“She wanted to help these people become more independent… She recognized that this really isn’t an equine problem, this is an engineering problem and that’s why she came to me,” Olson said.

The hoist is now undergoing the patent process with WiSys Technology Foundation.

According to its website, “WiSys advances scientific research throughout the state by patenting technologies developed out of the universities and licensing these inventions to companies capable of developing them to benefit Wisconsin and beyond.”

“We didn’t really invent anything new,” Olson said. “We’re taking off-the-shelf technology. It’s more the application of that technology. And there may be some patent protection on there. That will be up to WiSys to determine that, if they feel that there is.”

With the fate of the hoist in the hands of WiSys, Burris is waiting for the patent to be approved and for someone to be willing to market and manufacture the product.

Ken Giske is the executive director and president of Walk On Therapeutic Riding Programs in River Falls. Walk On helps those with disabilities experience horseback riding.

Giske hasn’t seen the hoist yet, but pending approval from WiSys, Burris would like Giske to be able to put it to use.

“I’m only guessing that it’s going to help our program based on what she’s told me,” Giske said.

No para riders are currently enrolled in the Walk On program, but there have been in the past.

Burris has more ideas that she would like to implement to further assist para riders, but isn’t ready to share them with the public. She is in the process of applying to graduate schools to pursue a doctorate in animal science equine and said she hopes to someday become a professor at UWRF.