01/02/2015 4:12PM

Hovdey: Lovato looks forward following tragedy


The dictionary sitting next to this computer screen does not have pictures, but if it did, the one sketched next to the word “indomitable” would look a whole lot like Frankie Lovato Jr.

Inventor, educator, and entrepreneur, Lovato also has the advantage of being a former Eclipse Award-winning jockey who rubbed boots with the best and retired at the age of 41 with a lot more to give to the game he loved. If Lovato is known for anything, it is the creation of the Equicizer, an ingenious mash-up of a rocking horse and a rowing machine that allows the user to simulate both the posture and physical exertion of a jockey riding a Thoroughbred in full flight.

Lovato also is the man behind Jockey World, which is both a website and a network of activities and projects designed to encourage a better understanding of horse racing. There is Jockey World Radio, a Jockey World video series, Lovato’s “What It Takes to Be a Jockey” DVD, and the online Jockey World Daily Racing Terms that have proven popular with horse-racing beginners, as well as those of us who thought we already knew everything.

For many years, Jockey World has sponsored a summertime Jockey Camp for aspiring riders, hosted at the horse-friendly home of Frank and Sandy Lovato near the north-central Ohio town of Norwalk. Jockey Camp has been tailored now to offer jockey mini-camps for more calendar convenience, as well as one-on-one mentoring.

Lovato’s Equicizer business keeps him jumping – he crafts each one by hand in his home workshop – while Jockey World is a labor of love that is a 501(c)(3) educational organization that delivers the sport priceless publicity. It is a pace strong enough to put a lie to the “retired” part of retired jockey, made even more daunting these past four months because Lovato has been doing it all with one hand tied behind his heart.

Sandy Lovato, his wife and partner in all of the above, was killed Sept. 3 near their home when her car was hit by a truck running a stop sign. She was driving alone. The driver of the truck also was killed. Sandy left behind two sons, a daughter, and a granddaughter – and Frankie.

“I’m doing OK,” Lovato said Friday from home. “I don’t dwell. I’m just grateful for what I was given. There’s not one thing during the course of my day without Sandy all over it. We’d been together 35 years, since I was 16, and close every single day.”

There were good things that happened to the Lovatos in 2014, before that awful September day. Shortly before Sandy’s death, her daughter, Megan, learned that she was pregnant with her second child, a brother or sister to granddaughter Allison. Earlier in the year, the Lovatos reached a successful end to a legal battle that secured for them complete control over the Equicizer product, after a disappointing attempt to secure a manufacturing and distribution partner.

“There was some damage control from the other company,” Lovato said. “But not bad enough to make a serious difference. Right now, I’m back-ordered, and I feel like we’re running on the reputation of the product.”

Lovato invented the Equicizer in 1981 while in rehabilitation from a riding injury. Today, it’s hard to find a jockeys’ room without at least one Equicizer of various vintage.

“Santa Anita has been a returning customer,” Lovato said. “New York is another, Gulfstream, Arlington Park, Lone Star, Churchill Downs. Chris McCarron had nine Equicizers made for the students of the North American Racing Academy and had me customize them as his favorite horses, like John Henry, Precisionist, Alysheba, Sunday Silence.

“Purchases by individual riders don’t represent a real large percentage of sales, though. One of our top customers are therapeutic riding programs.”

The basic design of the Equicizer as a teaching tool has not changed. Its operation relies on the energy imparted by its user, unlike the other mechanical “horses” on the market that supply their own motorized movement and tend to ignore errors in rhythm and balance.

“I had a top Western rider who uses it for his students call the Equicizer a lie detector,” Lovato said. “If it doesn’t move right, it’s just mimicking the rider. Then, when you get into the therapeutic uses, the beauty of it being non-motorized means that it won’t push you through a movement that’s going to hurt you. For people with disabilities, the satisfaction of making it move on their own is an incredible sensation.”

Lovato has ambitious plans to enhance the Equicizer experience through the use of interactive software and digital monitoring.

“We’re working on virtual riding, which would mean you could exercise or ride to a ‘race’ or go through the woods,” he said. “The idea of someone with a disability being able to go for a trail ride and feel it is very exciting.”

At which point, Lovato realizes he will be doing these exciting things without Sandy.

“I would never have believed I could handle this,” Lovato said. “And I’m not saying I’m skipping lightly through the days, but I’ve got my kids and my granddaughter, and they’ve really helped me. I can only look forward.”

James G Romano More than 1 year ago
Great memories of this young kid in the early 80`s,and that Peatmoss horse,,wow imagine if,,, remember Frankie senior in NY for many seasons.Congratulations ,and our sincerest condolences for you and your family.Thanks for the article.Lovato`s equipment was used in "SeaBiscuit' the movie.Wishing you success and peace,Happy new year . Bravo !
Frankie Lovato More than 1 year ago
Thank you so much James!
richarda foster More than 1 year ago
Long time Jersey racing fan here. Your family name brings back many good memories of my early days at Garden State Park. My thoughts and prayers with your family.
Frankie Lovato More than 1 year ago
Thank you Richard!
Kenneth Black More than 1 year ago
condolences frankie ,truly sad and yet very inspiring I tell young riders everyday that they should spend every minute they can when not on a real horse on your equicizer, there is no tool or facility that can help a young rider learn to ride races than than your lifes passion!! The last thing every young rider becomes adept at or atleast tries to become adept at,is finishing on a horse and that tool of yours is better than the real thing it never gets tired the trainer never cusses you out for hitting them as many do and should in the a.m. ,and you never have to have the thing recovered as my mom did to our couch growering up from riding the thing till I whipped holes in the ends of it, probably as good a finisher as I ever rode with whos seat and mechanics are second to none in my opinion Alex Solis rides the one in the jocks room everyday I rode with him LIKE HE WOULD GET PUNISHED FOR EVER GETTING OFF THE THING!!! god bless frankie,kenny
Frankie Lovato More than 1 year ago
Kenny, so great to hear from you. Thank you for all your kind words. You made me smile huge. Blessings to you my brother!
Darcy Boulanger More than 1 year ago
You're so right Lori Black. Frankie is one of the most gifted, genuine and humble people I've ever known. I love him to pieces. He and Sandy did such a great job raising their children, that Frankie does have a lot of support and the blessing of a loving family... of course up and coming rider, Kayla Jarvinen has been indispensable these past months as well. Lot's of love, hugs and good thoughts to you guys. xoxoxoxoxo
Frankie Lovato More than 1 year ago
Darcy, you're been such an amazing friend all these years, I love you!
Eddie Donnally More than 1 year ago
So Sorry, Frankie. I did not know. Grief is a journey and not a destination. Some days will be just better or worse than others. I applaud your successes and will keep you and your family in my prayers.
Frankie Lovato More than 1 year ago
Thank you Eddie!
Gj Ubar More than 1 year ago
Thank you for writing and posting the article on Frankie. He is a sweetheart. Take care, Frankie. Best of luck with the "virtual" Equicizer.
Frankie Lovato More than 1 year ago
Thank you all for the beautiful comments! And thank you Jay Hovdey from myself and all my family, blessings!
Rich Sickler More than 1 year ago
Frankie, I will never forget the time you and your wife made my wife and daughters Elizabeth & Laura feel like they were part of your family, I have never met you but by the way they talk about you is if I had known you for a long time
Bruce Epstein More than 1 year ago
Frankie, your the true "journeyman" rider. As a "Jersey Guy" I bet you plenty of times back in the 70's and 80's. So sorry to hear of your wife's passing. Best of luck to you, you are one of the good guys.
Justa' Horseyguy More than 1 year ago
Thanks Jay! A great article about a wonderful family. :)
Lori Black More than 1 year ago
I've said it often: Frankie is among the most kindhearted, creative-minded, and ambitious people I've had the true honor of knowing; and he and Sandy were the most devoted couple. But also, his level of strength, poise, and perseverance over the past four months has been truly remarkable. As Mr. Hovdey stated, the word "indomitable" certainly applies. Frankie has a special way of bringing out the best in those around him; and in turn, he and his family have surely been in the prayers and hearts of many, many people during this time.
Frankie Lovato More than 1 year ago
Lori, you have been so good to me and an amazing friend, blessings to you!!
Linda Marie More than 1 year ago