When I first heard about a horse simulator I must admit I didn’t really understand the concept. Growing up I had been horse riding during summer camps and there is passion for horses that runs in my family. I believed that, when riding a horse, the beauty of it was creating the connection with the animal, an understanding and trust between the person and the horse that was unique. I struggled to understand why there was something out there trying to remove the actual animal from the equation. The bad weather in London did cross my mind as reason to replace the horse when the weather isn’t good enough to go out riding, but then again, most outdoor circuits are covered so rain wouldn’t stop you from horse-riding either.
I was intrigued as we headed to Wimbledon to try out this new experience at ‘Equicise’. Located in South West London, fewer than eight miles from the City, is the award-winning Wimbledon Village Stables, which hosts a breakthrough training concept for horse riders of all abilities, ages and aspirations. Equicise opened in 2016 and it features a full size, completely interactive horse simulator housed in a luxury studio.
As soon as we ‘entered’ the stables, we left the City rush behind. We were surrounded by gorgeous horses and the smell of hay just made it the perfect break. We were greeted by friendly smiles by Carol and Roberta. Roberta was our instructor for the day.
The horse simulator was situated in a room within the stables. Roberta led the way and
then asked us for our shoe size and brought us boots to be more comfortable to ride with. She explained that it is important to have a small heel to prevent the foot from sliding through the stirrup.
I was impressed by the look of the simulator. As big as a real horse (of course) with mirrors on either side as well as one in front and one at the back. The mirrors helped keep a constant eye on one’s posture. The simulator faced a TV screen which showed virtual situations and positioning programs, such as walking in the park and racing, as well as showing you if you were in the right position.
I explained to Roberta how I couldn’t understand the purpose of a horse simulator and immediately understood it was because I wasn’t a horse rider and didn’t have much knowledge on the topic. The idea behind Equicise was simple, she explained, “the more you can develop your technique and fitness on the simulator, the better you will ride a real horse”. She then pointed out that, the bond and relationship I was referring to was very important in this type of sport but also explained that it could only be achieved when one had the right (if not perfect) technique. She carried on explaining that when one didn’t have the right posture or technique it could also result in physically hurting the horses. And also for an instructor, it is easier and more efficient to correct bad posture or riding technique on a simulator rather than when the ‘student’ is on a moving horse. This made total sense and I came to understand what an amazing creation this simulator was for those who were into horse riding or wanted to learn.
“The simulator is invaluable for new riders as it helps them to develop a balanced seat, become familiar with a horse’s movements and understand the aids that they will need once they mount a real horse – all in a safe and controlled environment. It is also perfect for those returning to riding after a break or injury and wanting to regain their riding fitness and/or confidence. And the sophisticated sensor system built into the Equicise simulator makes it an excellent aid for even the most advanced riders as you can monitor your position and how accurate your aids are in real time on the screen in front of you – it allows you to practice movements such as passage, piaffe and flying changes and you can ride dressage tests as well.”
I was first to try the simulator. As soon as it switched on, the movement was incredible. It took me back to horse riding days. I couldn’t believe how similar it was, just like being on a horse’s back. I corrected my posture and tried to keep the pace as we increased the speed. Not only was it improving my horse riding technique but it was also correcting my posture by straightening up my back, pointing my legs and all together aligning my whole body from head to toe. As the pace increased I realized I was like doing squats and it wasn’t long until I was doing a full body exercise trying to keep up with the simulator. From passage to trotting and finally canter, I could see from one of the TVs which part of my body I was working at every specific time. With only 15 minutes’ trial, I felt like I had done my fair share of movement for the day and it felt amazing.
When my time was up, I was curious to see how a professional horse rider would practice on the simulator so asked Roberta to show us the right positioning and riding. I could immediately see how it would benefit a learner to watch the instructor teach with the simulator rather than a horse.
Dina then gave it a go and during her session, she enjoyed riding testing the different scenarios the TV screen settings offers. There were different options to choose from and Dina tried most of them from walking in the side street to trotting in the park and then a race. I thought that adding virtual ‘real surroundings’ to the experience was a great touch to the overall experience.
We both thought this new concept was great and we were interested in the possibility of bringing our little ones to try to learn how to maintain good posture as well as learn how to ride a horse. We were pleased to know that although children cannot horse ride before the age of 7/8, they can jump on a simulator as early as 3yrs old giving them years of practice before perfecting their skills on a real horse. This wonderful training aid is suitable for all levels of rider and Equicise sessions, held in a comfortable and well equipped studio and overseen by experienced and friendly instructors (all professionally qualified horse riding instructors), range from teaching complete beginners to assisting advanced dressage riders.
Both myself and Dina thoroughly enjoyed our experience, Roberta was a great instructor making our half an hour session not just knowledgeable but also fun.
We would definitely recommend Equicise and would highly encourage any horse riding lover or anyone who has always wanted to give it a try and feels they have ‘missed that train’ to give it a go. Thanks to this simulator it’s never too late to learn or improve.
Equicise offers simulator lessons for individuals or groups as well as family sessions which have proved very popular. For families with more than one child or needing to bring a baby along, the studio space is big enough for everyone and for a buggy. This is also great for mums who want to come along whilst their little ones are having their daily naps.
We were sad to leave the stables, everything around us made us feel so relaxed. As soon as we stepped out we found ourselves in the middle of Wimbledon village with so many beautiful boutiques and lovely café, we couldn’t resist and went for afternoon tea in one of them to try the most delicious scones. As we headed back to central London, we both felt as if we had been on a mini retreat. Thank you Equicise for the opportunity. We hope to visit again soon.
And for those who wish to venture out on horseback over the stunning Wimbledon Common, please see Wimbledon Village Stables’ website wvstables.com for more information.