It’s Just Like Riding A Horse

New equipment helping students with disorders focus, relax

By Steve Raymond
Effingham & Teutopolis News Report

Funny how some great ideas come about.

One came after a conversation about a grandson with autism and the positive impact a simple horse ride had on him. After hearing that story, two friends and former business women — Harriet Phillips and Marilyn Brown — came up with an idea that could help calm people of all ages with neurological disorders.

As equine-assisted therapy has been shown to provide very positive results, why couldn’t the movement of a walking horse be replicated in an affordable, portable device that could be available around the clock?

And, hence, REST was born.

Phillips and Brown founded GAIT in 2012. It was named after the gait of a horse. The result of their research produced a piece of equipment called REST (Responsive Equine Simulator Therapy). It was created to help students with special needs and it has proven to be beneficial.

But it had never been placed anywhere in Illinois or in a school.

Until recently.

After hearing about the equipment, the Effingham Community Foundation thought it was a worthwhile investment and purchased one to be used in the Effingham School District. It was received in January and the results were seen immediately.

Sarah Buhnerkempe, an occupational therapist with the Eastern Illinois Area of Special Education, uses the equipment three days a week at Central School. “Once we started using it, we saw benefits right away.”

“We were surprised how fast it took effect,” added Renae Rinkel, a physical therapist assistant with EIASE, who also uses the equipment at Central School. “We saw a difference in the very first minute. It’s amazing how simple motion can calm nerves and improve focus.”

But that was the whole idea. REST was designed to promote relaxation, tranquility and calmness for those affected by a number of physical, mental and neurological disorders that include autism, ADHD, Rhett Syndrome, 22Q Deletion Syndrome, and as has been discovered in Effingham, Down Syndrome.

REST is 18 inches high, 14 inches wide and 24 inches long. It is portable and runs silently with a rechargeable battery that lasts six hours. It is pressure activated. Sit on it and it starts. Get off and it stops. It has ten speeds — all slow — and provides multiple motions just like you would experience when riding a horse. It is very easy to use and requires no specific training.

It retails for $3,495.

“It has really increased attention,” Buhnerkempe explained.

“Whether it’s writing their names, coloring, cutting or a variety of other tasks, the students are able to sit and focus for longer periods of time without a break. They each get about 15 minutes and work on their tasks while sitting on it.

“Most of the kids I see are non-verbal, but they come and seek it out,” Buhnerkempe added. “They know how it makes them feel. They must really like the sensation.”

Currently, it’s primarily used for preschool and elementary students. But Buhnerkempe and Rinkel, along with physical therapists Kayla Hemmen and Keri Will, would like to see it used in the junior high and high school as well.

While REST had been used to help with a variety of disorders, it had never been used for a student with Down Syndrome until it came to Effingham.

“I believe our student with Down Syndrome loves it the most,” Rinkel said. “He has made a lot of progress since we’ve had REST.

We’ve seen improvements in focus, recognizing colors and numbers, communication, as well as fine motor and gross motor skills. It’s had more of an impact with him than anyone else. And it’s having lasting affects afterwards when he goes back to the classroom.”

“The other kids like sitting on it and there is a calming aspect, Buhnerkempe added. “They are able to focus and complete tasks while on it, but there isn’t as much carryover into the classroom. That’s why we would like to see them in the classroom, as well. We believe it would help them remain calm and stay focused better.”

The therapists are in touch with GAIT on a regular basis.

“Each time we use it, we write down what we see so we can share that information with them,” Rinkel noted.

“They’re very easy to talk to, very helpful and want our feedback,” Buhnerkempe said. “We have given them some suggestions, especially about the design. It’s kind of bulky. We think it would be easier to use if it was smaller and more compact.”

Neither Buhnerkempe nor Rinkel had heard of REST before, but both agreed Effingham “got lucky” to be the school that gets to try it. They both also would like to see it used in the regular classroom and agreed that, ultimately, it would be great to have one in each classroom.

“We just have to try to figure out how that will work,” Buhnerkempe said. “Some students just have a harder time focusing if there’s a lot going or if they’re facing a difficult task. REST could help them stay focused for longer periods of time.”

“We love this equipment,” Rinkel added. “We’re fortunate to be able to work with GAIT to work out the kinks. There are no disadvantages of getting to use it.”