Ingenuity and lots of work; Buffalo woman invents horse massage tool

BUFFALO — Inspiration can strike at any time.

Buffalo’s Megan Welles’ “aha” moment came while she was working as a nurse at Sheridan Memorial Hospital. She was impressed by the pain relief and improved mobility that physical therapy patients experienced after myofascial release treatments. The therapy seemed like something she might be able to do to improve her horses’ health.

It’s been almost five years, and Welles has not only found a way to improve her horses’ health, she’s launched a business around the idea. 

The inventor of the HorseWell equine massage tool, Welles was recently named one of the winners of the Sheridan Start-Up Challenge and was awarded over $5,000 in seed money to help her continue to grow her business.

“Megan is kind of a shining star of how we hope to support entrepreneurs and help them develop their businesses,” said Scot Rendall, director of IMPACT 307, the organization that put on the Start-Up Challenge.

“When I saw this in the hospital, I was like, this is something I can use all the time at home,” Welles said of her invention, the HorseWell massager.

Horses, like humans, have fascia that surround and hold every organ, blood vessel, bone, nerve fiber and muscle in place.

Also like humans, horses can sometimes experience fascia buildup from inactivity, injuries or repetitive use. When the fascia gets thicker, stickier, drier and tighter, it often causes pain. In humans, and in horses, relief can come from physical massage that releases the fascia, restoring the fascia to its healthy form.

“There are horse body workers out there, and they’re professionals and knowledgeable and very helpful,” Welles said. “But I wouldn’t use it very often because I couldn’t justify that cost all the time. And, you know, for massage to be effective, you need to get it regularly.” 

The results of the myofascial release she witnessed in physical therapy patients continued to impress her, and the idea of creating a similar tool for horses would come to her unexpectedly. 

“I sat on it for a long time,” Welles said. “And then I’d be doing dishes or something else, and I’d just have these gut feelings, like, hey, I should do that. I should work on getting this started.” 

Finally, in late 2021, Welles started work on the prototype for what would become the HorseWell. 

The tool used by physical therapists on humans is only about 4 inches long – much too small to effectively work a horse’s big muscles. 

“When I went to develop mine, I took a tape measure to all of the horses, and I figured out the different muscle lengths for all the muscle groups on the horse,” Welles said. 

With those numbers in hand, she sketched out what the tool should look like. Next, Welles got connected with IMPACT 307 in Sheridan.

IMPACT 307 is a statewide network of business incubators designed to help grow and strengthen Wyoming’s entrepreneurial community by providing resources and support for inventors, innovators and founders. What Welles needed was help creating a prototype, and IMPACT 307 was able to connect her to a makerspace in Sheridan that does 3D printing.

“She had already worked on this quite a lot – she already had drawings and she’d talked to a patent attorney,” Rendall said. “We arranged for her to talk to Phorge Makerspace to do a prototype. They tried at least two or three types of materials, but came out with a pretty good prototype of what she had in mind.” 

With a prototype ready to test, Welles sent the devices to a number of horse trainers. 

“I had cutters, barrel racers, jumpers, some massage therapists or equine body workers use it just to see if it was even something that other people would like,” she said. “I love it because I made it, but I wanted to make sure everybody else would like it.” 

The feedback was unanimous: the tool was useful and easy to use. 

“And I was like, OK I can make a business out of this,” Welles said. 

With the help of IMPACT 307, Welles has continued to flesh out a business plan, including marketing, distribution and more. 

She found an injection molding plastics company in Minnesota to manufacture the fiberglass-infused nylon tools – a material she chose for its durability, but also because it won’t be cold, like metal would be, in winter.

“It’s small enough it can fit in your pocket, and it’s super handy,” she said. “It’s super durable. It can freeze and you can drop it — it’s not going to break and it’s not going to warp. I specifically did that so it would last for a long time for horse owners so they can use it an unlimited number of times.” 

This past fall, Welles “pitched” her invention and business plan at the Sheridan Start-Up Challenge and finished in the top three and received $5,000 to continue to grow her business.

Judges had a pot of $100,000 in seed money to award at their discretion – they awarded about $23,000 on pitch night, Rendall said, and can award up to the remaining $77,000 to the top-three finishers from the night as those finishers make progress on their business plans. 

“Megan is a great presenter, but she’s really committed to this product,” Rendall said. “She received $5,000 in seed funding, and she got another chunk of money from the judges to complete another portion of her plan. She’s spent a lot of money on inventory, and now she’s spending time and money on marketing.” 

Earlier this winter, the manufacturer delivered the first order of HorseWell tools. 

So Welles has become a one-woman retailer too – packing products in her garage to fulfill orders placed on her website. 

“When I first started, I was like, Oh, I’m going to just start this business. I’m going to sell this product. And that is not how it works,” she said. “There’s so many things and so many steps. I knew it would be work, but that really surprised me. And the interest I’ve gotten has been surprising. Which I’m grateful for. And it’s been a fun journey.”

Share This

Copy Link to Clipboard