Remember the pre-barn days when you were relegated to getting your horsey fix solely through literature and computer games? As a pre-teen, I burned through the Thoroughbred book series before venturing off to discover digital horse ownership via a plethora of computer games: Horse Illustrated’s Championship Season, Let’s Ride, Barbie Riding Club (kill me now…) but I would inevitably grow bored of the cyclical nature of the game and lack of artificial intelligence that we now like to complain about (damn, algorithm!) It wasn’t long before I discovered an online community of like-minded, horse crazy people also in search of the thrill of horse ownership by any means possible: welcome to Horseland.
I spent hours, literal hours, on this mind-numbing platform. For those of you who avoided this Big (T)Eq black hole, it was a very simple premise: using message boards and the basic economics of supply and demand, you could own, show and breed your very horse through a point-based system. And by “horse” I mean a digital representation of whatever your mind could conjure; it was like a blank page in a scrapbook, a very rudimentary avatar of sorts, with a small pedigree attached to it giving the horse a semblance of value. Graphic design-savvy users would create beautiful images of their horse (think of modern-day stallion ads in your favorite horse publication) adding to the perceived value of the animal. Ultimately though, your horse’s value was based on its pedigree and show record: god forbid your horse came from an overbred stallion or didn’t boast enough points to warrant itself as worthwhile to anyone on the platform but yourself.
Users could also jazz-up their personal accounts; creating an HTML-based homepage of sorts for their virtual farm or club, advertising their horses and services. Perceived value came from the graphics or layout of the user’s page (the more professional or artistic the layout the better) and this created its own organic economy: code-savvy users could create and “sell” different layouts for others in exchange for points, horses, or other goods and services on Horseland.
Long story short, I was one of those users (and an unimpressive one at that) and it wasn’t until recently while reading about expanded production of all-virtual communities for workplace meetings and the value of non-fungible tokens (NFT’s) when I realized holy pile of horse poop! I WAS IN THE METAVERSE.
Horseland was the original Metaverse. Well, for me. I can’t give you that much credit, Horseland gods (although I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if one of them were now leading a large team at Facebook…oh wait, sorry Meta.) But we were flipping ahead of the curve!
I was shocked to learn that the Horseland.com of the 90’s only recently closed it’s doors in April 2019, with many users already petitioning for a revival. Horseland also led to spin-offs of the original website in the form of a flash-based Horseland Jr. and even a cartoon series created by DIC Entertainment; an animation study formerly under the Walt Disney umbrella.
This led me to thinking: if equestrians can do this with 90’s era technology, where are we now? Can the horse-girl (and boy) gamers make a significant comeback in today’s Metaverse? As corporate conglomerates such as Nike and Adidas buy into the Metaverse and seemingly find long-term appeal in NFT’s (such as, in extreme layman’s terms, horses on Horseland) where do equestrians fit in?
OpenSea, one of the largest NFT marketplaces, has already created a popular horse racing “metaverse” in Zed Run, with such appeal that these digital horses sell for thousands of very real dollars. The popular marketing group, VisitLex, based out of the horse capital of the world even produced a satiric commercial regaling the value of the “Non-Fungible Thoroughbred” (https://youtu.be/6ZOegq2E030).
So. What’s next? As the world continually pushes all-digital products and an eternal life in the Metaverse, how do equestrians snag a piece of the pie? Will we be represented in the Metaverse? Do we want to be…?