I have worked with horses for very many years now and am used to the standard edition of four legs and a tail when it comes to the charges in my care.
However, last week my boss Kathryn and I went off to meet a whole new breed of equine all together. His sleek, black, elegant frame gave way to a wealth of talent: not only could he pop around a course of showjumps and gallop happily across country, but could also perform a grand prix test or take you on a hack around a peaceful tree-lined landscape. As if this wasn’t enough, he even whinnied when you touched the base of his neck (a rather endearing touch there I thought). This really was one multi-talented equid and is the latest offering from the amazingly clever people at Racewood, who lead the field when it comes to producing equine simulators.
We went to test out this particular horse at their bijou workshop in Tarporley, Cheshire and it was really nice to be greeted by voices we have known at the end of telephone for many years, but had never before had the privilege to meet.
To describe Racewood as a cottage industry is an injustice to the pioneering technology they produce from within those four walls, but yet perfectly sums up the dimensions of space they operate in.
I was staggered that such incredible creations could be manufactured here, and it was fascinating to be talked through process of constructing each horse from the ground up to bring it to life. Each simulator is built by one person at a station in the workshop, rather like car production before the Ford Motor Company revolutionised manufacturing by introducing assembly lines for the Model T in 1913. There is nothing centennial about Racewood’s processes however, more just that each build is the completion of a sequence which encapsulates meticulous attention to detail, build quality and pride in their product from start to finish.
We went to see the ‘Three-Day Event Simulator’, which is not only a breed apart from its living, breathing equivalent, but also from other mechanical horses that have gone before it.
Our current, and now slightly middle-aged effort – Hercules (pictured above) as he is known to his mates – is operated by a system of cogs and pulleys, like most others of his kind. The beast that we road-tested leaves the rest in its wake, utilising flight simulator technology to give their most life-like experience yet.
It requires more precision than you would imagine to ride this machine; I found that half-pass took even more concentration than usual! But once you get the hang of the leg aids and weight of contact needed, everything starts coming together. You are given feedback on a screen of saddle and rein pressures, and so from a coaching or instructional point of view the benefits are very clear. I jumped it around a course of showjumps prior to heading our across the country which I have to admit was also more challenging than you might think, but very fun.
The software gives you an on screen analysis of speed, and how often you got the horse into the right place in terms of fence take off. Suffice to say that the common theme of my end of session report was that I was coming in to fences at gallop when I should have actually been in collected canter; hmmm, no change there then!
A wee ramble
I try to keep pretty fit and active generally, and definitely find that it helps my riding apart from anything else. This is going to be taken to a whole new level (for me anyway) at the end of August when I will be walking the length of the 268 mile Pennine Way in aid of the charity Endometriosis UK.
Normally I go to the gym two to three times per week but training has been stepped up in earnest to make sure I’m fit enough to be able to cope with tramping an average of around 18 miles each day.
Last Sunday was the first ‘big walk day’ that I’ve done so far and if anything can make a substantial amount of pain in your legs seem worthwhile, it’s the views from the top of the Malverns on a beautiful day (pictured). It really was quite breath-taking, or maybe that was just the hill climbs…!?
I like a challenge and this will most certainly be one, not least because I will carry everything with me for the duration and camp most of the way. The route starts out in Edale in Derbyshire, finishing up in Kirk Yetholm, which is the village where my grandparents lived and so it has additional sentimental value for that reason.
I really am pretty excited about the whole thing and it’s for a really great cause; Endometriosis is an incurable condition which affects one in 10 women in the UK.
The charity works to support women with the condition and raise awareness to speed up diagnosis rates. You can read more about it here https://www.justgiving.com/Felicity-Marshall1/ and I will keep you posted with updates!