Friday, September 19, 2008

A Horse For "Inside" Your House!

What Would You Think About A Horse For... "Inside" Your House?!

By Frank Lovato Jr (to appear in Horses Magazine October 2008)

My name is Frank Lovato and I am a retired professional jockey. Over my 25 year career, I rode in over 15,000 races and had 1,680 winners. What may be even more interesting is that I build horses for people to ride indoors! I named them the Equicizer and they are playing a very serious role in many people's lives. Maybe you are you thinking, "Why in the world would anyone want or need a mechanical horse for in their home?" You may be surprised to learn why and who is riding off into the sunset right in their own living rooms these days.

Jockey Frank Lovato Jr (photo)

People of all ages are using them to exercise, train and use for therapy. It does not look like a robot horse or anything like that. I handcraft each of them so they're more like nicely finished, friendly pieces of furniture – but they're horses! This all may sound new to you and a bit crazy, but this is something I have been working on for many years. If you are still not quite sure what this is all about, please allow me the opportunity to explain this new world that I have created and why riding a horse inside your home can be a very amazing and beneficial experience!

Frank Lovato with his horses, the Equicizer & Equipony

This all started for me in 1981 when I sustained a severe injury from a racing accident. The concept of me needing a mechanical horse became very real for me as a means to rehabilitate myself back to health. I was completely crippled and had to learn how to walk again. During my rehabilitation process, there were plenty of fancy and expensive state of the art exercise machines available at the rehabilitation centers – but NONE would help me regain the strength, fitness, and flexibility I would need to ride a horse again. It was then I devised myself a mechanical horse made from wood and springs that gave me the real essentials of a horse. With this wooden horse, I was able to bridle, saddle up, and ride, recreating the moves, rhythm, and balance as if I was on a real horse without any risk or danger. The success of my rehabilitation and recovery using my wooden mechanical horse was phenomenal and immediately recognized by other world top jockeys who would ask me to please build them one. Over the next few years since building my first horse for myself, more and more request for my wooden horses kept coming and I kept building. In 1988, I officially named my wooden mechanical horses the Equicizer and created a child size version named the Equipony. This was also the time when my wife Sandy and I established our special company, The Wooden Horse Corporation.

Hall Of Fame jockey Mike Smith works out on the Equicizer

I am sure you are wondering how the Equicizer works and what makes it go. The answer is "you, the rider" make it go! I purposely designed them to not be motorized. My priorities have been for these horses to remain safe, to be affordable, and to be an exercise machine that does not need maintenance or electricity. The Equicizer is completely balanced on springs and it rests in the position of a typical horse in the standing position. It can be ridden bareback or with a standard saddle of any kind, and it is built to hold up to 500 pounds.

So what makes the Equicizer move? When the rider seated on the Equicizer pushes and tilts their hips forward in a rhythmic manner, this puts the Equicizer into motion. Gently riding in this manner will create the sensation of a horse walking. If you were to watch a rider's seat on a real horse while the horse was walking, you would see that forward rhythmic movement in the rider's hips. The only difference is that a real horse is doing the work for you.

This exercise on the Equicizer can be compared to the "pelvic thrust" exercise which is an abdominal core exercise that a chiropractor may recommend for you. The more energy and effort you put into this rhythmic exercise, the faster the Equicizer will go on up to a full canter. You can push with your seat and hips into the saddle the same way you would drive a real horse forward in a canter. As long as you maintain rhythm and good balance, the Equicizer will move properly and come to life. If you break the rhythm or halt, the Equicizer will stop right with you to keep you safe.

You do not have to ride the Equicizer fast to gain good healthy exercise. Being able to ride it slow and gently is why it enables people of all ages and level of abilities to ride and exercise. This is what makes the Equicizer extra special as people with injuries or disabilities that may not be able to use traditional exercise equipment can ride the Equicizer!

The simple exercise of pushing with your hips offers an amazing safe core, abdomen, back, and leg exercise for anyone – specifically for horse riders – to work those muscles you so importantly need to ride a horse.

Another exercise that is mostly used by jockeys is the two point position, where the rider stands up in the stirrups with their butts off the saddle and uses their arms pushing into the Equicizer's neck in rhythmic manner and stride. This exercise uses a whole different set of muscle groups and can build up a cardio exercise much faster Either way, exercising in or out of the saddle, the Equicizer can go as fast and as long as the rider can ride it. The Equicizer never gets tired, the riders do!

Exercise for the Equestrian

I don't think anyone would argue that there should be something for horse riders to exercise and train on for "riding horses." If you were a cyclist, I am certain you would have a stationary bike in your home. If you are a horse rider, why not have a stationary horse?! Treadmills, exercise bikes, and other exercise machines, offer great exercise, but they do not work your core and the important muscles you need specifically to ride a horse. After all, horse riders are athletes too! All other athletes have a means to train and practice their skills. Baseball players have batting cages, boxers have punching bags, golfers have driving ranges, you can have a basketball hoop in your driveway, etc., etc. Horse riders? I have an Equicizer. It just makes sense!

Over the past 20 years, I have built horses for riders of every kind, ranging from the professional extreme Equine athletes to small children and adults with disabilities. The Equicizer has reached all parts of the world. Aside from private homes, some of our customers include colleges, equestrians centers, riding instructors, clinicians, therapeutic riding programs, hippotherapy and rehabilitation centers, hospitals, and museums. No matter where their locations or purpose, they have found a need for the Equicizer and Equipony. Even the film industry has used the Equicizer for training actor Tobey Maquire to ride a horses and for the close up scenes in the making of Seabiscuit. The Equicizer was also used in Who's Your Caddy and ABC Family Channel's hit television series Wild Fire. All for the reason to capture close up scenes with the actors riding a horse while they were actually safely riding the Equicizer.

Actor Tobey Maguire Aboard the Equicizer in Seabiscuit

Jesse Howell & Sheryl Sabino with "Cocoa Bear" their Equicizer - Founders of "Change Through Chance" therapeutic riding program of Wooster Ohio dedicated to helping those with physical and mental challenges.

We are a very small personal company, but I do believe in the need for such a product and the service the Equicizers provides. I still hand-craft each of my horses personally in my own private shop in Norwalk, Ohio. I take a lot of pride in the quality and craftsmanship of each horse, from nose to tail. Made mostly of wood and padded carpet, I carve and hand-paint the horse heads myself – something a little extra special that many people love. The manes and tails are very life-like, but I make those from a synthetic material. I dye and mix in various colors. I try to personalize the horses for the customers as much as possible when they request it with colors, markings, or personalized name plates, as most people do have fun with it along with the idea of it being a serious exercise machine. It may likely be the only exercise machine you may offer a pat on the neck or a kiss on the muzzle after a workout! I bet all of my customers would admit that one time or another they have had a word or two with their Equicizer! All part of the great fun! When was the last time you hugged your treadmill?

Carving Horse Heads

Hand Painted & Finished

My wife Sandy and I have been avid horse riders all our lives and she has two horses. One is her quarter horse gelding named "Raleigh" and the other is our Equicizer named "Mocha". Mocha is parked right in front of the TV in our living room while Raleigh, of course, is down at the barn. Sandy actually got her hero, RFD-TV's and master horseman Craig Cameron to autograph Mocha's cheek, but still, Raleigh is Sandy's true love and there is nothing Sandy would rather do than to ride Raleigh every waking moment. There are days that riding Raleigh just becomes impossible for Sandy with our kids, schedules, work, weather, etc. When she does get to ride Raleigh, though, she feels great in the saddle. The reason why is when she can't ride Raleigh, she's riding Mocha while watching her favorite TV shows like Gray's Anatomy or Craig Cameron on RFD-TV!

(photo above) Master horseman/clinician Craig Cameron with Steve Lantvit of Highgrove Farm in LaPorte, Indiana ,and Frank Lovato standing with Jazz, the Equicizer -

Wishing everyone happy trails, even if they may be right in your living room!

For more information, please contact Frank or Sandy Lovato; Phone: 419-663-1472

visit our website:

Video above, RFD-TV's Craig Cameron interviews Lovato for his segment called "tack tip" at the 2008 Equine Affaire in Columbus, Ohio.

What It Takes To Be A Jockey

What It Takes To Be A Jockey

By Frank Lovato Jr.
(article appeared in Horses Magazine, issue Aug. 2008)

For many youngsters who feel the need for speed via horseback, the idea of becoming a thoroughbred jockey seems the perfect solution. I get so many kids each year that come to me looking for some sort of advice and direction into this career of being a jockey. It's tough to find any information unless you know someone in the business. There is no guide, handbook, or general rule on how to become a jockey or what is involved, but I hope that I can somewhat enlighten anyone and everyone about this mysterious career.

ARE YOU THE RIGHT SIZE? The first question I get when asked what it takes to be a jockey is "you have to be short, right?" To me that would compare to asking what it takes to be a lawyer and just needing a briefcase. Of course it doesn't hurt being short but it's more about the weight of the person, not the height. Jockeys tend to be short people only because they can make the weight assignments required in thoroughbred horse racing. I am 5' but I was one of the shorter jockeys. The average jockey is somewhere between 5'2" and 5'4". I knew one jockey that was 5'10" but that is rare. He was quite skinny as you could imagine. Jockeys should weigh approximately 110 pounds and apprentices (rookies) 105 pounds or less. If you are already much heavier then that, for your health, please reconsider the idea of wanting to be a jockey. The weight however, is only one of many things in what it takes to be a jockey.

DO YOU HAVE HEART /NOFEAR? So, are you fearless and feel the need for speed? Well, it definitely takes a lot of guts for this job, but there is a big difference between riding fearlessly and riding carelessly and irresponsibly. Good jockeys ride carefully by not taking unnecessary risks that put themselves, the horses, and other jockeys in any more danger then is already involved in race-riding. There are times when taking a dangerous chance like slipping through a small opening between horses warrants taking such a risk, but a good jockey knows when taking risks is necessary and when it's not. Bad riding, making dangerous decisions, taking risky chances out there on the track can cause horses and jockeys to crash to the ground with enormous force. You are not only riding for your own life and safety, but everyone that is out there on the track with you.

DO YOU HAVE THE ATHELTIC ABILITY? Are you athletic? Great at sports? Can you already ride the hair off a horse at high speeds? Ok, those are a couple more ingredients that would qualify you for the job. Still there is much more to being a good jockey. Actually, the best jockeys have patience, finesse, good sense of pace, quiet calm hands in the reins (who'd a thunk). Yes, its true! It's not just about speed. In thoroughbred racing, it's the one who finishes first at the end of the race that gets the prize! It's all about winning of course. Jockeys need to position and place their horses during the first part of the race - getting their horses to relax and pace themselves so that they will have something left for a strong finish to get the win.

Being a good jockey is also not just about physical strength. It's not like a baseball player who is able to swing with all his might to hit the ball out of the ballpark. It's more like a golfer whose slow, smooth, easy swing and good rhythm hits the ball straight and long down the fairway. Thoroughbreds are big, strong, amazing animals to ride but they do not always have a good pair of brakes or power steering. It's not just push to go and pull back to whoa, pull the right rein to turn right and the left rein to turn left. It can be much more complicated than that from horse to horse. Race horses can react very well to feeling your hands in the reins. As a rider you can often get better response from the horse using your feel and senses with a good set of hands. Trying to out muscle a race horse is not always going to work but, when all else fails, then you just have to use that muscle.

ARE YOU PHYSICALLY FIT? Jockeys have to be in incredible physical condition and fitness in order to ride races. It is said that pound for pound, jockeys are the fittest athletes in the world. How does a jockey train to gain this fitness needed? Well, you train by riding race horses everyday. You might start by exercise riding only one or two race horses during training hours every day and build up to more. Running, swimming, biking, weightlifting, etc., although great exercise for general fitness, are not enough to condition you to ride a horse. This was why I created the Equicizer (mechanical horse) as it offers riders the ability to practice and simulate riding maneuvers, train and maintain the fitness and flexibility needed for riding horses. I created the Equicizer 27 years ago when I was injured in a riding accident and needed serious rehabilitation. I had to learn how to walk again and as I got stronger, I knew I needed something to strengthen me to ride a horse prior to actually getting on a real horse. But there was just nothing out there at the time. So I built myself a horse from wood and springs that over the years I developed into the Equicizer.

WHERE DO YOU GO TO LEARN TO BE A JOCKEY? Traditionally, there were no jockey schools or official place to learn the skills to be a jockey here in the United States. Typically you needed to have someone in your family who was into racing or get a low paying job on a racetrack or some horse farm that trained racehorses. My dad was a jockey so that was my "foot in the door." My mind and heart were set on being a jockey since age 3. My parents would have loved to talk me out of it but there was no way. My parents found a thoroughbred horse farm that was willing to hire me at age 13. Unfortunately, it was a 1,000 miles away from home. So at age 13, I said goodbye to my childhood and dedicated my life to what it takes to be a jockey. I was racing professionally by age 16, which is a very young age by today's standards.

Almost every country in the world that has horse racing, has a jockey school or some sort of training program. When I started out, America had none. Most of the jockeys you see today started out much like I did or came from other countries that had jockey schools. Here in the United States, we all worked on thoroughbred horse farms and racetracks as kids, growing up learning how to ride race horses. If you stayed small and light enough, you might be able to become a jockey.

I can proudly say there is now a first class facility here in the Midwest called the North American Racing Academy (NARA) located in Lexington, Kentucky. This is the vision of retired jockey and Hall of Famer Chris McCarron. Mr. McCarron's facility currently resides at the Kentucky Horse Park. NARA is also affiliated with the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, offering college courses where you can further your education. Mr. McCarron's mission with NARA is to develop and operate a world-class racing school that will provide students with the education, training, and experience needed to not only to become skilled jockeys, but also become proficient in the care and management of racehorses and knowledgeable about the workings of the racing industry as a whole. NARA can be found on the web at or call 859-246-6678

NARA classroom with the Equicizers lined up for students

Another avenue is the Frank Garza Jockey School located in Southern California, web address; . Mr. Garza offers his farm operation to help anyone who may want to be jockeys, exercise riders, or trainers.

There is the old fashion way to become a jockey by researching any nearby thoroughbred horse farms or training centers in your area. I do not recommend and is not likely you could learn to ride at a racetrack. Horse farms are the best and safest places to learn. Check the yellow pages or local feed/tack store. If you have internet access, you may find something by searching the web for "thoroughbred horse farm" and see if there is a directory for your area. You may find a farms with email addresses, phone numbers etc. If there are any thoroughbred racetracks nearby, maybe you can try and contact a trainer who might lead you in the right direction in finding a good local farm that trains race horses.

When finding a place that may be interested in hiring you, do not expect to show up with your helmet and boots ready to jump into your illustrious career. In order for people to consider letting you take their expensive race horses out for a spin, you will likely have to start from the bottom with lots of ground work, cleaning stalls, mending fences, and learning all about horse care with little to no pay. You will have to start out as an exercise rider for the race horses before you will be able to learn the skills to ride races. Every job in horse racing, including a jockey's, usually means early hours, working 7 days a week, and not too many vacations. I would recommend when looking for work, only mention that you would like to be an exercise rider. Sometimes when you tell people off the bat that you want to become a jockey, their attitude may change and it could create unnecessary pressure for your self in the work place.

My last advice if you would like to be a jockey - always surround yourself with good, caring people in the business or horse racing. Work hard and stay out of trouble. A good work ethic will make people want to help you along and create good opportunities for the owners and trainers to give you a chance to ride their horses. Even with all the best jockey skills in the world, without good horses to ride, you can never be successful in this business.

There are so many misconceptions and other things that come along with being a jockey. I just scratched the surface with this piece. It appears to be a very cool job loaded with glamour and rewards. The truth is that it is that it can be a very unstable, uncertain, and dangerous career. If anyone would like some further information or if you have any questions, feel free to contact me at

About the writer: Frank Lovato Jr was the 1980 Eclipse Award Winning Apprentice of the nation and also the creator of the Equicizer. The Equicizer is mechanical horse that enables horse riders to train, exercise and use as a therapuetic tool when a real horse may not be an option. Frank retired from racing in late 2004 with 1,686 wins from 15,603 mounts. Now residing in Norwalk, Ohio, Frank works full time with his Equicizer business.

For more information, please contact; Phone: 419-663-1472

visit Frankie Lovato's website:

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