Horse owners have for years been poring over stud books and eyeing up the quality of their steeds in the hope of breeding the perfect equine.
It is fair to say that the “breeders” of mechanical horses haven’t exactly been standing still, either.
While your typical breeder is working to reshuffle genes in a mating to get that champion horse, the creators of mechanical horses have the benefit of evolving technology that they can incorporate in their creations.
There is something inherently cool about mechanical horses. We cannot help but compare them to their real-life equine counterparts, and ultimately marvel that a horse does it all better.
Yes, today you can have computer controls and electronic sensors, but a horse’s brain still generates a much better sense of what’s going on around it than a bunch of silicon chips.
Let us see how the evolution of the mechanical horse has progressed.
First, I give you Blowtorch, billed by his inventor as the only horse in the world you had to choke to start.
Blowtorch was the work of a Canadian inventor, W.K. McIntyre.
McIntyre was described as having a creative mind, but rather eccentric.
The Saskatchewan man came up with his first engine-driven horse in 1947. His third prototype was named Blowtorch III.
Blowtorch III was a supreme triumph, the pinnacle of mechanical horse evolution at that time – and it proved a hit with the public.
Blowtorch III is now in the proud possession of the Saskatchewan Western Development Museum.
He had a body made from sheet-metal that concealed a nine-horsepower petrol engine to give Blowtorch his get-up-and-go.
The hooves had a small adaptation on a conventional horse – wheels.
That said, they still moved backwards and forwards, giving Blowtorch a familiar, if somewhat stilted, gait.
Like any good horse, Blowtorch had a foot throttle and brakes.
He was painted black and white, and even came with a mane and tail.
The museum’s collection curator, Ruth Bitner, wrote on the museum’s website that McIntyre rode his mechanical steed at local fairs and in parades, much to the delight of crowds.
Blowtorch might not have gained the fame of Roy Rogers’ Trigger, but word certainly spread far and wide.
Newspapers wrote of his exploits and even Walt Disney made some inquiries.
After McIntyre’s death in 1965 Blowtorch was put out to pasture and deteriorated badly.
Fortunately for Blowtorch – and the museum – Allan Jacobs, a welder at McIntyre’s workshop, decided to resurrect Blowtorch. He and McIntyre’s son Jim, set about restoring him.
Bitner reports that Allan could not resist a $C20 dare by Jim to head for the local fairgrounds astride Blowtorch in the 1968 Swift Current parade.
A tangle with an overpass expansion joint jolted Blowtorch’s head off. Allan made running repairs but a little further along the horse broke a leg bolt and, in the best traditions of horse and rider, Allan was unseated.
In the late 1970s Jim McIntyre donated Blowtorch to the museum, where the mechanical warrior got another tune-up and makeover.
Blowtorch is now stabled at the Western Development Museum at Moose Jaw.
Compare Blowtorch to the latest incarnation of the mechanical horse, Boston Dynamic’s new horse-like rough-terrain robot, the Legged Squad Support System (LS3). This baby was put together with funding from the US Marine Corps and the Defense Advanced Research Projects
The Massachusetts-based firm says the LS3 was designed with military use in mind, and is able to go anywhere that soldiers and marines go on foot.
Each LS3 can carry up to 400lbs of gear and enough fuel for missions covering 20 miles and lasting 24 hours.
It does not need a driver, because it can automatically follow a leader using computer vision, or travel to designated locations using sensing and GPS.
The LS3 can negotiate the roughest of terrain, including tackling steep hills and bush-covered terrain, unlike Blowtorch, who was more of a highway kind of guy.
These mechanical horses are clearly generations apart in terms of technology, but W.K. McIntyre certainly had the edge in one area: the name.
Blowtorch is an inspired name for a horse, especially a mechanical one.
Legged Squad Support System. Not so much.