I realised in my teens when starting out as an instructor, that a machine which simulated the movement of the horse would be an invaluable aid to teaching beginners especially, but also to ‘hands on’ correct riders with established faults that would be Impossible to do on a real horse, moving away from the instructor all the time.
For many years, I tried to have a simulator designed and made, trying university engineering departments, engineering firms, etc, but all wanted substantial funding which I hadn’t the means to offer. It took 27 years before such a machine became available due to a student of mine, Jonathan Heyes, who had found difficulty learning to sit to the canter.
I had threatened to take Jon to the local supermarket which had one of the kiddies’ slot machine rides outside, which quite appeared to quite reasonably, replicate canter! Jon was at that time, working as a civil engineer in the oil industry in Aberdeen, during the week, leaving scientist wife Anne at home in Cheshire. Jon didn’t waste his time in the evenings and set about designing me a simulator.
A few months later, Anne telephoned me to tell me that Jon had a prototype simulator to bring down to me to try. Jon and Anne arrived, and a very strange looking apparatus emerged from their vehicle, and I have to say, I had my doubts! It was a frame with two cams, and a motor which apparently Jon had borrowed from a friend’s compressor, and with saddle balanced precariously on the frame, I climbed aboard, holding on to Jon’s shoulder on one side and my yard manager, Debbie’s on the other. The machine had only one speed at this time, and Jon pressed the button. To my delight, as it burst into life, the movement was amazingly realistic and I knew immediately that this would work, with further refinement.
Jon went home and soon had a machine that had different speeds so could walk and trot. A new machine was built, and I took delivery of it at the British Equestrian Trade Association Trade Fair, where I was on a stand of the company who at that time, made my Seatbone Saver saddle pads.
Disaster struck when I plugged the machine in, as it blew the entire lights in a large section of the National Exhibition Centre hall where the trade fair was taking place, but had also blown all the parameters on the machine handset controls! Jon, at this time was working in the Middle East on a contract, so I couldn’t even phone him to ask what to do!
Thankfully, electricians soon sorted the fused lights, but I was left with a machine which wouldn’t work. I rang Anne and luckily, the machine’s electrics had been wired by someone other than Jon and she was able to put me in touch with him. I had one of the earliest mobile phones, the size of a house brick then – and was able to ring the electrical engineer, and he talked me through resetting the parameters.
No one had ever seen such a machine before, and it was the talk of the event for all three days, never before had the clothing sector of the trade fair seen such footfall! I had never worked with such a machine, but instinctively knew what I would be able to do with it, and was proven correct.
Jon tried to make a canter version but it wasn’t successful, so he set about making me a mechanical simulator rather than an electric canter machine, but with his usual genius, Jon managed to make one that simulated both paces, but it emerged, that if the rider did not move in sync with the machine, it wouldn’t go. This was a bonus, as an electronic one keeps going however badly ridden. This one showed exactly how bad riding impedes the real horse.
With my teaching methods, this machine became as much use to me as the electronic ones, in fact, sometimes more so, especially with riders with established faults. It is possible to even teach more advanced movements like passage and flying changes! Jon didn’t have the time to produce the machines commercially, so one of my Enlightened Teachers in the Netherlands, Fiona Meilink, together with partner, Seddy and Father Peter, asked if they could make the machines for us to sell.
We have now sold the machines as far afield as Australia, the USA, and the Continent. I am now working on to an online course designed to enable purchasers to get optimal use from the machines, which is greatly enhanced by undertaking the seven modules of the Enlightened Equitation teacher training, Level One, with the simulator training added on. This would culminate in a certificate as an Enlightened Equitation Simulator training coach, and space allotted on this website, to promote yourself.
I am indebted to Jon and Anne Heyes, as without their help, I would never have had those machines.