HARRISBURG, Pa. — By the time the experience was over, you were a little worn out. Your hands were clenched to the handle or were grasping the reins. It felt like you actually raced.

That was the point. It’s why the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Association created this trip through virtual reality.

Visitors to the 107th Pennsylvania Farm Show at the Farm Show Complex were given a chance to ride a Thoroughbred or sit in a harness cart without any risk of falling or crashing. All the fun. None of the danger.

“We want them to feel what it’s like to be in a race,” said Dawnelle Mock, the digital content director at PHRA. “Get them excited about the sport.”

The simulator was real in one sense. It’s called the Equicizer and is often used for training. The mechanical horse mimics the motion of a 1,200-pound Thoroughbred galloping at top speed.

As soon as the goggles are placed over your eyes, you’re digitally transported to the starting gate awaiting the beginning of a race.

Then … you’re off.

“It’s very realistic,” Mock said. “This is a real thing jockeys use to prepare themselves.”

The virtual reality experience is taken from cameras that were mounted on a jockey’s and driver’s helmet during previous races. The Thoroughbred ride came from Penn National. The harness ride was lifted from The Meadows.

The immersive event helps one gain an appreciation for how fast the horses are moving and just how difficult it is to maneuver around the competition.

The Thoroughbred race put the participant in second place trying to overcome the leader as other contenders closed on either side. The tension of the race built as it unfolded. One instinctively steered the horse and looked around for potential challengers.

The harness simulator placed you in a full-size jog cart and duplicated the feeling of being the driver. One thing became clear: Those carts are close together. There’s real risk when competing at such high speeds.

Mock, a harness racer herself, said visitors must be 12 years old to wear the goggles. Younger children are permitted to sit on the simulator. The experience is free and is available at Farm Show through Saturday. People of all ages were willing to give it a try.

“Everyone has been happy and liked it so far,” Mock said. “Some of them get really into it and they’ll be sweating and say what a workout it is. Some will sit there and look around and say how cool it is. We’ve always had positive responses.”

The PHRA, which was created in 2018 with the goal of promoting horse racing, hopes virtual reality will spark more interest and appreciation for the real thing. Maybe it’ll encourage someone to stop by Penn National or somewhere else.

For most people, this will be as close as you can get to chasing that elusive spot in the winner’s circle.

“We wanted to offer a unique experience,” Mock said. “Maybe we can’t get you on a horse out at the track, but we want you to get the feel of what our drivers and jockeys get to see.”

Original source credited to lancasterfarming.com

Cover photo credit to Jason Guarente

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