Horses for aerobics courses

Tallulagh is a very special horse. She challenged Dr Hilary Bentley’s thinking on the way horses are exercised and led to theinvention of the EquiAmi training aid.

When Hilary bought Tallulagh, the horse had problems in her back caused by previous injuries and years of not using her back properly. A chiropractor treated Tallulagh’s physical problems but psychologically she needed persuading that if she used her back properly it would not hurt her. However, unlike a human, it cannot be explained to a horse that performing certain exercises will aid their recovery.

Hilary looked for a training aid on the market that would encourage Tallulagh to use her back but was surprised that she could not find a suitable product. Determined to help her horse, she started to create her own experimenting with pieces of string.

"The trick is, the horse needs to step under from his hindquarters in order to lift his shoulders and become soft and light through the head and neck, to basically carry himself correctly."

After a few weeks Hilary realised that her makeshift training aid was really helping Tallulagh. Impressed with the results, she bought rope from an ironmongers to replace the string she had been using and tried it on her other horses to see if it would benefit them, and it certainly did.

“After six months using it on Tallulagh and other horses I realised that I had got something that was extraordinarily good.”

At this time Hilary was working for the University of Wolverhampton part-time and completing her PhD in Education. One day at work she received an email from the Innovations team asking ‘Have you had a bright idea? Could it make money for you?’ and an invite to attend a session to find out more information.

She decided to attend and was surprised that although there were lots of people there with ideas, she was the only person with a  working prototype. Dr Iain Alexander, Commercial Compliance Manager for the University, picked up on the idea immediately.

“Having been involved in managing industrial product development for many years, the simplicity of the concept behind Hilary’s training aid appealed, fitting in with the KISS rule of product development - Keep It Simple Stupid.”

Through Iain’s expertise in bidding for funding, EquiAmi started to take shape as initial finance was secured to develop the prototype, assess the market and protect the concepts behind the training aid by filing a UK patent application. Further finance was obtained through the University to develop a business plan, produce marketing material and take the patent application to the international phase.

"Without the ongoing help of the University to keep us in a financially sound position, the company would not have been able to go forward."

The EquiAmi training aid, named to highlight the ‘horse-friendly’ aspect of the product, was launched in July 2006. Manufactured by a Walsall saddler, to date over 600 training aids have been sold within the UK and as far reaching as North America, Australia and South Africa.

The EquiAmi has received endorsement from top international riders, such as Rosie Thomas BHSII, a top event rider. After several months of using the training aids she commented: "All the horses on the yard are worked in the EquiAmi lungeing aid regularly. I can see and feel a big difference in them now."

As well as impressing riders, EquiAmi has also received acclaim from equine practitioners including Kathryn Nankervis MSc CVMP, of Hartpury Equine Veterinary and Therapy Centre in Gloucestershire. “We have found the EquiAmi to be a very useful training aid, particularly for younger or less well educated horses where we are trying to encourage a lower head carriage. It works well for horses which have ewe necks and/or an extended posture and we have had great results when using it in horses recovering from back surgery.”

So, what’s next for EquiAmi?

Hilary’s goal is to get the training aid established as the worldwide market leader. Iain Alexander is pursuing the ongoing national phase patent applications in the UK, Europe and the USA and a lower-cost version of the aid produced by a large manufacturer will be launched in July this year to supplement the premium leather version. This will have a significant impact on the company as the product will be sold through catalogues and retail outlets, making the product more widely available.

When asked if Hilary had advice for anyone looking to start their own business, she said: “Do your research into all aspects including finances, see what local grants are available, and take advantage of any free advice and courses. If you’re convinced it’s a good idea move forward positively and don’t give up at the first hurdle because it will be the first of many.”