The New Horse - Will Teach You to Ride

Reprinted with permission of the author.  Equestrian Network Magazine.
by Tamara Watson
 
His name is Simon. He has a sleek black body with matching, luxuriously thick mane and tail. He is not a horse but a machine. Simon, short for Simon Says, made his debut at the 2007 Western States Horse Expo, where critics and curiosity seekers stood in line for up to two hours to get a ten minute taste of riding the perfect schoolmaster. Simon is a horse that always has the exact same response, doesn't need grooming, and doesn't go lame. A horse of this breed, for this purpose, has not been seen in America before.
 
Simon the mechanical horse
 
Simon is a mechanical horse, but is preferably referred to as "The Riding Simulator". Simon was built by the British company Racewood Ltd. Racewood Ltd. began manufacturing riding simulators for horse racing and
polo. They are currently working on models with articulating necks, jumping capabilities, and flying changes. Simon is the most advanced model in the United States with all four gaits plus a collected trot and canter.
 
Simon is exclusive to Colleen Reid of Equine Sports Complex in Sacramento, California.
 
Reid has been teaching for 30 years and has been putting Simon to good use by offering simulator lessons to her students and the general public. Reid claims that by putting a student, whether beginner or advanced, on Simon, and thus eliminating many of the distractions which take place in a riding arena, that riding kinks are able to be worked out and the student is able to then parlay that success to their live horse. "Riding Simon is a good tool to refine and clean-up your riding", Reid states. Recently I had the opportunity to try Simon for myself.
 
Lesson Day
 
Other than breeches and boots, preparation for this lesson was different; there was none. There was no horse to track down in its stall. No horse to groom. No hoof picking. No leg wrapping. No saddling. Nothing but getting on and riding.
 

Who controls Simon is not without options. Simon can be controlled entirely by the instructor through buttons, or thanks to sensors in Simon's head and on his sides he can be controlled entirely by the rider. Our lesson began with Colleen controlling Simon, which enabled me to get a good feel and to focus on my position.
Sitting on Simon at a standstill felt like any other horse. Reid then pushed a
button and we were onto a walk. Simon had the rolling movement of the walk, but it lacked the side to side, or the swagger of a good walk. After a few seat corrections I was settled in and ready to get down to business. Onto the trot! This was a real trot. This felt like a trot on horse, granted a horse with a stiff back, but nonetheless the movement was correct. Never have I mastered the sitting trot. After years of effort I had resigned myself to the fact that in order to really 'get' the sitting trot I needed to commit to months on a lunge line, but that was before I rode Simon! While bumbling around trying to find my seat, Reid immediately spotted the riding flaws that were preventing me from moving with the trot, and with a few corrections I was comfortably sitting Simon's trot. Plus, I learned seeking tools applicable to any horse.
 
Only minutes into the lesson it was evident that one of the greatest benefits of riding Simon was having an instructor in touchable proximity. At any moment Reid could reach out and make a correction in my position or direct me to a form flaw that I could then check and correct with use of the mirrors. All this is done without having to worry about interfering with the horse.
 
Once a consistent sitting trot was achieved I was ready to take hold of the reins. Reid activated the head sensor, so we could work on half-halts. As it turned out Simon was even more sensitive to my tense arms than my own horse. If I pulled too hard (which didn't feel that hard) Simon made a clunking sound. If I released from a half-halt too coarsely, Simon made a clunking sound. If I was holding too much at the sitting trot, Simon made a lot of clunking sounds until I softened, then there was no sound. Simon makes riding deficiencies obvious and does not adapt over time.
 
 
After gaining the feel of Simon's bit sensitivity, the leg sensors were then activated. With both head and leg sensors activated I was able to transition Simon up and down. If too much leg is used Simon will take off at a gallop. Having always ridden inappropriately forward horses, it was nice to be able to fully use my leg. We did several transitions between trot and canter. Simon has a great canter. It is a very collected, pre-pirouette canter that very few people get to feel on a live horse. Riding this canter is very addictive and will leave you wanting more.
 
Without realization forty-five minutes had passed and it was time to dismount. Reid had me working the entire time. Usually Reid limits lessons to 30-minutes due to the intensity. After all the breakthroughs I experienced, it is without wonder the benefits to be gained by incorporating simulator training into an aggressive riding program.
 
When asked what it was like to learn how to give lessons on Simon compared to live horses Reid replied, "I had to read the horse [Simon] just like a new school horse. It was like any other learning curve." Reid states that when Simon is making strange sounds she knows something isn't right and can work with the rider to correct it. For instance if a canter aid is given when the incorrect hind leg is on the ground, Simon makes a strange noise in the transition.
 
With a trainer in close proximity all guesswork is taken out of the mix, as student, Crystal Alatalo states, "it cuts out the mistake time." Alatalo likes to ride 30-minutes on Simon, then immediately get on her horse while the information is fresh.
 
Not only can Simon help hone skills, but can also be used as a fitness tool. Advanced student, Leslie Jones, uses Simon as a method of conditioning riding muscles. Let's face it, there are no strength training exercises or aerobics that work a body in quite the same way that riding does. If you are looking at some down time due to horse lameness, Simon can help keep those muscled tuned up.
 
Simon is what he is - a mechanical horse, but his value is not to be under-rated. There are a multitude of scenarios in which Simon might be the only option to not riding at all. I was surprised how much I enjoyed riding Simon. He was consistent, steady, and the most honest mount I have ever been upon. Simon isn't an easy ride; it still takes skill and hard work.
 
There are many fearful adult riders who could really benefit from a few Simon lessons. Riding Simon, in conjunction with a skilled trainer like Reid, can build skills and confidence. For those looking to resolve some long-term riding issues, Simon is worth a try. The skeptics definitely ought to suspend scrutiny and lend themselves to the positive riding experience Simon has to offer.
 
To contact Colleen Reid or for more information about the Riding Simulator, visit her website: www.electricschoolmaster.com.
 
Read comments to this article at the bottom of this page.
 
Copyright 2007 All rights reserved. The above article is the property of the Author and may not be duplicated or redistributed in any way without permission.
 
  Reader comments for this article  
Name: Bonita Coffman Time: 2007-12-01 13:12:32
Comment: Would like to be sent e-mals if you go out touring, I live on the East coast
Name: Katrina Lomax Time: 2007-11-30 18:11:29
Comment: I really enjoyed reading this article. I would love to take a lesson and have my bad habits corrected. I think this is an excellent learning tool, as well as a safe tool for beginners to learn and build confidence on. It takes all the risk out of riding - which many people need before they can handle a live horse. I also like the aspecit of fitness since to ride well your muscles need to be adapted to riding before going out on long rides - it's safer. I can't wait until there are more of these around!
Name: RP Time: 2007-11-24 14:11:15
Comment: I just returned from three sessions on the mechanical horse. I am an advanced beginner with about a year of weekend training in western saddle. I found the mechanical horse to be very helpful. I was able to concentrate on improving my posture, rhythm and seat without worrying about controlling a live horse. I also want to add that the mechanical horse isn't going to help anyone without a good trainer there to give you feeback. Colleen Reid at the Sacramento Center does a great job of helping riders get the most out of their time with the mechanical horse.
Name: Ferne Time: 2007-11-23 10:11:14
Comment: Sounds like a wonderful idea. You could concentrate on your riding without having to worry about having the horse do something unexpected and throwing your concentration out the window!

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