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National Winner

Contak, Equine Therapy Saddle

A specialised saddle for equine assisted therapy, commonly offered through Riding for the Disabled.

  • Contextual image

  • Contak user experience

    Contak user experience

  • Product details

  • Contak allows the lower extremities closer to the midline of the torso improving stability & safety

  • Integrated side walker handle reduces strain on volunteers shoulders, forearms & wrists

  • Development process

What it does

Contak is a specialist saddle for use in equine therapies offered by NZ Riding for the Disabled (RDA) for physically or mentally disabled riders. It focuses on rider safety & experience, bringing the rider closer to the horse optimising therapeutic benefits.

Your inspiration

Although involved in recreational riding I had no prior experience in the therapeutic use of horses, but recognised an opportunity to improve safety & therapy benefit through a new saddle design. RDA offers unique therapies which encourage physical, emotional & educational development for individuals with physical or mental disabilities. Research has repeatedly shown that to engage with a large, responsive animal such as a horse encourages physical movement, social engagement & educational advances through physical activity.

How it works

Contak offers an intimate experience with 60% closer contact between horse & rider when compared to more traditional therapy saddles. Direct connection between the rider & the movement of the horse results in positive & focused physical therapy. Closer contact assists the emotional response of the rider & physically transfers warmth from the horse more effectively, relaxing and lengthening large muscle groups which can be tight in their natural state in children with cerebral palsy or other physical disabilities. The structural component of the Contak saddle (HDPE) has been perforated to allow maximum heat transfer & shell flexibility. Contak draws on traditional saddlery forms & image but utilises contemporary lightweight, easily maintained, formable materials. This contemporary approach to specialised equipment design utilises a combination of natural & high performance materials to ensure an intimate, unobtrusive, secure & tailored experience.

Design process

Designing this therapeutic saddle started with extensive research. Immersive & observational research of therapy sessions at RDA, case studies & readings into aspects of the therapy. Discussions with industry experts; saddlers, physical & occupational therapists, experienced volunteers & human kinesiologists. Critical analysis & observation of existing equipment & how it was used. Analysis of horse movement at different paces. Sketching, researching & sketch modelling of concepts overlapped at early stages of the design process & was heavily influenced by both primary & secondary research. Ergonomic research followed, with a focus on client groups catered for by local RDA centres to gain perspective of the riders involved. A sensitivity to physical impairments & disabilities was paramount in designing how the saddle would interact, & cater for a range of riders. Prototyping & ergonomic testing influenced overall size, form & functionality of the concept. Material tests & further prototyping followed. The final prototype was successfully tested by the local RDA who gave detailed feedback. The final prototype combines traditional imagery & base form with aspects of high performance, lightweight, intuitive equipment design.

How it is different

Contak focuses on the connection between horse & rider. Increased surface area provides even distribution of the riders weight ensuring neither client nor horses performance, movement & comfort are compromised. The reductive aesthetic fosters visual connection with the horse, increases the opportunity for physical touch & presents less bulk under the rider’s thigh & lower leg, allowing the lower extremities to be closer to the midline of the torso improving stability & safety. Handles in lieu of traditional reins move independently to accommodate differing client anthropometrics & allow the the horses movement to be accentuated as the handles move toward & away adding an element of joint exercise. The formed HDPE shell ensures a lightweight, durable & flexible assembly. A secondary integrated handle is incorporated into the saddle shell which allows pressure to be readily & comfortably applied by the safety side walker through faster paced sessions.

Future plans

Moving forward, I hope to continue collaboration with local RDA centres to develop the saddle further. Modest development funding would permit manufacture of a small run of prototype saddles for durability field testing, evaluation & feedback to gauge user response. Recent feedback from limited media coverage & informal presentations suggested strong support from national RDA centres & an indication that an international market might be anticipated. Successful prototype testing may lead to an opportunity to present the Contak saddle at the bi-annual therapeutic riding conference in South East Asia in late 2019.


Red Dot Award, Best of The Best 2017 Best Award, Gold Pin, Student Product Category 2017

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