Her interest was not just academic, it was personal. At age fourteen, a riding accident damaged her spine, requiring multiple surgeries. Years later, while working at a hospital in Sydney, a young woman who had suffered serious injuries from a car accident asked Mary to take her riding. The experience proved therapeutic for the young patient and inspirational for Mary.
Mary – never one to reject a challenge – set up riding for her young patient. This was so successful that the doctor in charge referred many recovering patients for riding therapy. Every second Sunday for the next eight years, Mary took a youth group of disabled people horse riding under the auspices of the Sisters of Mercy.
One question kept begging to be answered. Why could a seriously disabled person sit unaided on a horse yet have to be tied into a wheelchair on their return to hospital or home? It occurred to Mary that if she could replicate the saddle position, where the spine is able to assume its natural “S” shape, she would create an ideal seat for therapy as well as for task seating.
A review of literature validated Mary’s thinking. Ordinary seating forces the spine into an unnatural “C” shape, placing stress on the spinal discs and associated muscle groups. Dr A. C. Mandel noted that the ideal sitting posture for the human spine is achieved on horseback. Mary also came upon anecdotal reports from horse riders who suffered severe back pain on the ground, yet who gained marked relief when mounted in the saddle. Mary became convinced that a riding-style posture was far healthier than postures supported by conventional seating.
Mary left the hospital to work with her father, Anthony Bambach, a successful manufacturer of wires and cable. There she met an engineering undergraduate looking for a supporting topic for his final thesis. Mary suggested a combined study of the interaction between a wire winding machine he had designed for the factory and the seat on which the operator sat. Mary’s work with this engineer, another occupational therapist and a physiotherapist, led to the Saddle Seat and discovery of its benefit to the human body when seated to work. She met Bill Gale, an engineer and her future husband. Together with another occupational therapist and a physiotherapist, they developed and introduced the first Bambach Saddle Seat.
Mary Gale is a graduate in Occupational Therapy – Sydney, NSW. She continued her post-professional studies and practice in a variety of settings, including in-patient, vocational, psychiatric, and rehabilitation environments. During this time she also pursued her lifelong interest in horses, winning many trophies, medals and ribbons during her competitive riding career.
A message from Mary Gale, OT
It is my goal is that people will become aware of their own bodies, how they work and of their own power to be as strong and healthy as possible, then, rather than using furniture which creates postural stress and deformity, they will understand and choose seating which can give them the best ergonomic posture.
Most people now understand their power to choose good nutrition and exercise to have healthy bodies so that they get the best out of their work time, leisure and home life. So I am hoping that people will likewise choose to understand how their bodies work and that the healthy choice for sitting will expose the fact that the conventional seating on offer for offices, travel, lounge chairs and in fact most seating is actually harmful.
People will then recognise that seating must offer a real opportunity to sit upright naturally and that this not only relieves and prevents postural stress and spinal deformity, but relieves intradiscal pressure giving symmetry and balance for active body function. Most importantly, they will realise that this posture is governed by the position of the pelvis.
All of us, especially those of us with physical impairments, need to sit in the best posture possible to avoid deformities developing or deteriorating. People will eventually understand that the key to good posture, and the difference between a healthy “S” spine and a deformed “C” spine is the pelvis being secure in its upright, neutral position while sitting. They will then have the wisdom to choose seating for a healthy functional spine.