Is it silly to pat a horse which isn’t actually real?
That’s the question I asked myself as I dismounted from the Musto Mare, a horse simulator which the public can ride at the Land Rover Horse Trials this week (5-8 September 2019).
The simulator is made by Racewood, who make simulators for all disciplines. Their managing director, Bill Greenwood, developed the first racehorse simulator in 1990 following an approach from a leading jockey who wanted to maintain his riding skills and fitness while recovering from injury.
The Musto Mare at Burghley offers the option of jumping the cross-country course or, new for this year, taking a virtual reality dressage tutorial.
As I tackled the cross-country course a couple of years ago (on the simulator, obviously!), I opted for the dressage tutorial this time.
Racewood’s Lottie Williams talked me through how the mare works — there are three sensors on each side for the legs, sensors in the saddle and also in the mouth. A screen in front of the rider shows in real time how much pressure you are applying and whether you are doing so symmetrically.
We kicked off with putting the mare through her paces, transitions upwards and downwards in walk, trot and canter.
I could sit on the mare’s trot all day, but her canter was a lot bigger than I’m used to — unsurprisingly as my usual ride is a 15.1hh Connemara. And I don’t do so many flying changes usually…
The final part of the ride is a two-minute blind training session — the mare automatically moves through walk, trot and canter on both legs, but with the screen view altered so the rider stops receiving instant feedback on their position. Riders then receive a printout of their results.
There were three fascinating learnings for me from 10 minutes on the Musto mare.
Firstly, I’m not instrinsically crooked. My rein pressure is nicely even and — once you account for the fact Lottie reports everyone’s saddle sensors are showing them a little to the left, which is due to a slight tilt in the ground in the marquee — my weight is pretty evenly distributed. I know I’m not straight when I ride at home — and hence my horse is one-sided — so I need to try not to carry my preconceptions about how my horse goes into how I ride him.
Secondly, I really do lean forward in trot and canter. My dressage trainer is constantly telling me this, but I never really believed it…
Thirdly, remember to take your leg off again once you’ve achieved the result you want. I instinctively wanted to keep my leg on after giving an aid to move up a gear, but on the mare, that isn’t necessary — she won’t fall back into trot until you ask her to do so! Not nagging with the leg for no reason is a good lesson for me.
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Having your own Musto Mare isn’t cheap — the all-singing all dancing eventing model starts at £84,000, plus VAT, installation and delivery, but models with less features are priced accordingly, with Racewood’s popular racing model, the RS, coming in at £1,500 plus VAT and delivery — but a quick ride at Burghley this week is free, so pop along to stand A50 (opposite the World of the Horse pavilion, on the right near Lion Bridge) to book your spot.
Oh and by the way. I did pat her. It felt rude not to.
Check back later for more updates from Burghley and don’t forget to buy next week’s Horse & Hound (dated 12 September) for our full report. Burghley form guide in the issue on sale now (dated 5 September).