Shepaug agriscience program gets boost from new mechanical horse

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

WASHINGTON — Inside a barn stall at Shepaug Valley School is the latest addition to the school’s new regional agriscience program: A 7-foot long, custom-made mechanical horse.

The horse, which students named Rio Maverick, was created thanks to a grant from the state in connection with the establishment of the program.

According to Anne Hermans, the school’s veterinarian and agriscience instructor, Rio simulates actual horse riding so students can improve their skills, as well as their overall fitness. It’s on springs and allows training of both beginning and advanced riding techniques and equine care.

“It gives students that have never sat on a horse or might have a fear of horses the opportunity to take that first step in a very manageable way, and it gives experienced riders the opportunity to hone their skills and mentor other students,” Hermans said.

The model, called an equicizer, is used in schools, by professional riders and in equine assisted therapy programs. It’s constructed with springs that mimic a horse’s natural movement, “which is a very profound kinetic connection between a horse and a rider,” she said.

Hermans said a mechanical horse is like an exercise bike for riders.

“The way you make it go with your body mimics the core muscles and the leg muscles that are engaged in riding,” she said.

Rio was one of the many educational, instructional pieces of equipment provided for the agriscience program as part of its Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment grant from Connecticut, according to Hermans. Rio cost about $5,000.

Agricultural Science and Technology Education programs are state funded and prepare students for college and careers in fields such as animal science, agricultural mechanics, aquaculture, biotechnology, food science, and marine technology. There are about 20 ASTE programs in the state.

While Rio is now part of an introduction to the program, it can be used in multiple ways, such as a demonstration of how to put the bridle and saddle on a horse. It can also be used as part of students’ riding instruction.

The students played a large part in creating Rio, according to Hermans.

“They were involved in the selection, they chose the color of the horse, the kind of bridle, the color and length of the mane, and the name,” she said. “It was custom created just for us.”

Rio is kept in its own stall next to the school’s live horses.

“That allows us to have it near our equipment like our saddles and bridles,” Hermans said. “It is on wheels so it can be easily moved to different instructional spaces for class and demonstration.”

According to Hermans, the academy in Washington is always looking for ways students can engage in experiential learning.

“This is an amazing opportunity for our students, because as a school, we’re providing education to students at all levels of experience and interests,” she said.

sfox@milfordmirror.com