In Singapore, I teach some of my clinics on a simulator horse, called Plastic Jack. And, honestly, I think Plastic Jack is worth his weight in gold.
A lot of people will have seen them – life size “horses” sitting atop a platform and computer, allowing them to halt, walk, trot and canter. The movement feels similar to that of a live horse, although not exactly the same since he isn’t swinging his weight along with all four legs.
A few times now, I have gone simulator indoor skydiving, mainly to figure out exactly how I’m using my core and how I can influence my direction and stability with nothing to reach out and hold onto, or floor to push off. Last time, I chatted to the dive instructor and asked him how lifelike it was. Similar, was his reply. You get the upward push of air, but you don’t get the pockets of turbulence, the sudden rush of up or down draught, and you certainly don’t get the cross wind. When flying through the air outside, you get wind from all directions, in a simulator tube, it’s all one way. (As I write this, sitting in a plane, I can certainly vouch for what happens with up draughts, down draughts and cross winds). A wind tunnel is too regular and even. And, that is similar to what happens on Plastic Jack. He’s very safe. No one has fallen off, you don’t even have to wear a hard hat, and there isn’t any tilt through his corners, or falling in or out around the circle, but it’s as close as.
Now, some people sit on a version of Jack for 5 minutes, use the pressure sensors and get a read out of what the pony’s sensor panels have to say – you are 56% to the left, and 63% tipping forwards. And that, in my opinion, is a bit worth less. A fun joyride, sure, but does it actually teach you anything or help?
Where Jack comes into his own, is when we can play. Before the rider gets on, we work through a whole variety of exercises to understand and experiment through tensegrity and alignment. We’ve sat on Styrofoam or polystyrene balls, blown up balloons, and pulled each other around. We’ve thought of how balls bounce, how violin strings are tensioned and how our diaphragm works. And, we’ve watched videos of Charlotte and worked through photographs of the last Olympics. Now, finally, we get on Plastic Jack and we play with low tensegrity, high tensegrity, having both seat bones, stability of the fascia spiral lines using bands, and the way in which blowing up a balloon activates the core. By having Jack cantering along in one place, I can stand next to the rider and place my hands where I want them too, asking them to push one side of their pelvis, fill in their back, breathe to their kidneys or rest their head against the head rest in their car in a much clearer way than they ever could sitting atop a real live, moving horse. The proof comes in the next day, when their regular coach says – Oh My, I can see a change in your riding…
So, you up for a challenge? Find out if there is a local version of Plastic Jack and go along for a lesson. It can be tricky to find someone to actually teach you on one, rather than just getting a printout, but if you can find a horse and a trainer, magic will happen!