Vigor’s Horse-Action Saddle, a home exercise machine, appeared on the market in the 1890s. The machine’s concertina-like casing contained four horizontal wooden platforms separated by springs. The rider’s own movements dictated the pace – an invalid could simulate a gentle walk while a more robust person could build up a furious gallop over imaginary five-bar gates. A control on the front adjusted the tension so that adventurous riders could experience a ‘bone-shaker’ feel, should they so wish. For full authenticity, riders were advised to open all the windows in the room where they were exercising. Rather than buying the machine, it was also possible to visit Messrs Vigor’s gym in Baker Street to have a go.
Unusually for anything involving exercise, this contraption looks almost fun. Although perhaps not completely ‘a perfect substitute for a live horse’ – at least, not if you wanted to travel somewhere – it was well-received as an aid to fitness. The medical profession increasingly advocated taking exercise on purpose to improve the health, and this product (also called the Hercules Horse-Action Saddle) appears to have given a pretty good workout.
The machine was 4 ft high and about 30 inches square. The advert’s claims that it could trot, canter and gallop make it sound as though it moved independently like one of those fairground buckaroo things, but this wasn’t the case – the different paces were powered by the rider’s own exertions.
Within the mahogany frame was a mechanism that consisted of four platforms separated by springs. By turning the control on the front, one could adjust the distance between the platforms so that the more adventurous could experience a ‘bone-shaker’ feel, while a smoother ride was available for invalids. Ladies could buy a side-saddle version.
At 7 guineas for the cheapest one and 21 guineas if you went top-of-the-range, these were quite an investment – which can’t have paid off if they met the fate of every exercise machine ever bought and were consigned to a shed to gather dust.