Exercise is usually painful and the thought of a cast iron exercise horse probably makes it seem even more so. Fortunately, the example we have down at the yard is less a contraption used for torture and more of a glimpse into early exercise machines and people’s changing attitudes to keeping themselves in shape.
While there are better alternatives out there today from a pure exercise point of view, our cast iron exercise horse would have been marketed as a miracle cure for obesity and even hysteria in its day. Looking at it, it would make a highly unusual addition to your gym at home and it probably still has some benefit as an exercise machine if you prefer an antique approach to your workouts!
Claims made about exercise horses in the Victorian era include its effectiveness in ‘promoting health to the same degree horse riding does’ and its ability to ‘prevent torpidity of the liver’ and ‘improve circulation.’
Back in those days the middle and upper classes who may not have been forced to do shoulder the burden of heavy manual labour will have been impressed with the health benefits of these early exercise machines.
Unfortunately looking at some of the old photographs of women in long dresses used to advertise such contraptions, it becomes clear that there was still a long way to go when it came to wearing the right clothing.