Equicizers go Hollywood — again

Cary Ashby • Jan 31, 2019 at 10:00 PM

The mechanical horses made just outside of Norwalk have been on television again. 

Equicizer creator Frankie Lovato Jr. and his crew at the Wooden Horse Corp. made six which CBS rented for a timed competition in an episode of the latest celebrity edition of “Big Brother.” It’s the second time in about four years the reality series has featured Lovato’s unique creation.

“It’s always good to get exposure like that, for us to show our customers. It’s fun not just for our past customers, but (also) for people (who) are considering maybe purchasing one. It’s just a positive thing all the way around,” said Lovato, who was a professional jockey for 25 years. 

“It’s usually very entertaining and very funny — fun for everybody. We had done this once before back in 2014 and apparently it went so well that they wanted to redo it.”

The Norwalk resident created the Equicizer in the 1980s for his own therapy and training.

“I had a badly fractured leg and lost all flexibility in my knee, lost all the strength, muscle tone — everything. The doctor was not even sure I was going to be able to ride races anymore. He just thought, ‘Well, let’s see if we can get you walking again and start from there,’” he said. 

“We are the only one of its kind,” Lovato added. “They rock back and forth and simulate what a horse does at a gallop.”

Since an Equicizer can be used for training and therapy, he said that type of flexibility reminds him of the various uses people have for baking soda. The mechanical horses also accommodate different styles of riding.

“I created this as a training tool for me to rehab with racing and also fitness,” Lovato said. “I made it for myself with no intention of starting a business. I made it for myself because there is nothing out there.”

While basketball players can use a hoop in their driveway or golfers can practice their swing on their property, it’s not possible for jockeys.

“You can’t do that with a race horse,” Lovato said. “And especially if you’re coming off an injury. In order to be strong enough and flexible enough to ride a race horse, you need to ride a horse. … So when I created this, it was out of frustration; there was nothing out there.”


Riding into Hollywood

The recent episode of “Big Brother” is one of many times that Hollywood has used an Equicizer. 

World-famous polo player Nacho Figures and TV show host Ellen DeGeneres rode one during a 2017 episode of “Ellen.” Figures was raising money for breast cancer research. DeGeneres tweeted a photo of her and her guest on an Equicizer about the time the episode aired.

Actor Tobey Maguire used one of Lovato’s creations when he trained for and filmed the 2003 movie “Seabiscuit.” A framed photo in the office of the Wooden Horse Corp. shows Maguire on an Equicizer with director Gary Ross beside him. Also hanging nearby is a picture of musician and TV show host Harry Connick Jr. using one.


On ‘Big Brother’

Recently a “Big Brother” art director called Lovato, expressing interest in using the Equicizers. 

CBS requested six “horses” arrive in two weeks. Wooden Horse Corp. builds four units at a time, with a maximum target of eight per month.

“We were quite back-ordered already,” Lovato said. “He said, ‘What are the chances that we could get six of your horses (in) a two-week time frame?’ And I basically said, ‘It’s impossible; it can’t happen.’”

Luckily, Wooden Horse Corp. had a couple Equicizers already in production, so Lovato contacted those customers who had ordered them.

“I had actually hired another helper,” said Lovato, who wanted to know from CBS what was the most time he could get to supply the six horses. “We just grinded out, worked it out and we had a resolution. They gave us a deadline that was more realistic instead of pouring it on in here.

“The customers (who) were in the queue to receive their Equicizers by a certain time weren’t worried about getting them by that time. They were like, ‘We can wait another week to 10 days,’” he added. “With ‘Big Brother,’ we squeezed in another extra four (Equicizers).”

Even with the new time frame, Lovato said he and his crew “had to work really, really hard to get it all done because they are all handmade.”

“They didn’t need as many horses the first time and we were able to accommodate them pretty quickly. This time they wanted more horses,” he added.

The TV show used six Equicizers for a timed Veto competition. The celebrities had to “gallop” for 60 strides, complete a brick-stacking challenge on a turning apparatus. They then had to get back on their Equicizer and ride the “horse” for another 60 strides.

“It’s exhausting; it was funny. Most of them had never rode a horse in their life and if they did, they were very novice riders. So they looked very funny doing it,” said Lovato, who wasn’t there for the filming. “They had the set decorated like an old Western theme, so it was really a neat setup.”

Neither Lovato, his business nor his creations were mentioned on “Big Brother.”

“They didn’t want any logos. Anything that would show the name of the product is against their policies,” he said.

“We didn’t know when it was airing until the day before and we weren’t really allowed to say anything about it, but we didn’t know anything anyway. (The art director) was very helpful. … He let us know when it was airing and kinda told us that it went great.”

After the Equicizers were on “Big Brother” the first time, Lovato said there was “nothing extreme” when it came to subsequent interest or sales for his creations.

“But it does have residual value as far as people will say, ‘I saw the horses on ‘Big Brother’ and I was actually thinking about it when I saw (it). That definitely made me decide that I definitely wanted one of these.’”

It’s fairly common for Lovato to get a call or email from previous customers, notifying him that his Equicizers were being used on TV or were spotted on the internet.

Lovato said he thinks it’s possible the “Big Brother” crew might use Equicizers in the future, now that his product has been on the reality series twice.

“They were pleased. After the first time, we kinda had a template, as far as an arrangement. We normally don’t rent them for someone. We do get requests to rent, but the logistics — having to package them and send them somewhere and then package and send them back — they are better off purchasing.”

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