By Margaret Tye

Whenever I think of rocking horses I immediately picture a classic spring mounted Victorian horse, but toy horses have been around for much long, dating back as far as the Egyptians.

The earliest English toy horses were not rockers, they had a round barrel body and were mounted on four wheels. If the child’s legs reached the floor they could propel themselves along. The children would mimic the jousting contests held during medieval times. Simple hobby horses, with stuffed heads mounted on a broomstick, were also popular for centuries.

The first actual rocking horses, mounted on a bow shaped rocker, appeared during the seventeenth century. The earliest example is a crude elm and soft wood horse dated about 1610 and reputed to have belonged to Charles 1. This rare horse is now housed in the V & A Museum of Childhood in London. Over a period of time bow shaped rockers became more elaborate and realistic in appearance . The carved wood was covered with gesso, rubbed down to a smooth finish, painted and then fitted with full harness and saddle. Wealthy families would use these horses to train their children to ride.

Rocking horses became very popular during the 19c when Queen Victoria was very taken by a grey dappled horse manufactured J. Collinson of Liverpool in 1851, fuelling the desire of many middle class families to own one. This is the design that most people envisage when they think of rocking horses.

Although Europe led the way in the development of the rocking horse, it was an American, J.P.Marqua, who, in 1871 invented a safety stand with the horse suspended on a static frame with swing irons. European manufacturers were quick to recognise the advantages of this design. It removed the danger of the horse tipping over or fingers and toes being trapped under the runners.

With the advent of modern technology it became possible to quickly produce beautifully carved and highly polished wooden horses.

Recently there has been a revival of interest in rocking horses. Specialist companies
are producing horses to rival the finest earlier mounts. Although these cost several thousand dollars, they will undoubtedly become family heirlooms. Of course there are less expensive models using a wide range of materials, from stuffed plush to plastics, and costing as little as 20 dollars. A small price to pay for the hours of pleasure a rocking horse can give.

Margaret Tye runs a website promoting educational toys and a rocking horse site where you can view some of the best rocking horses available.

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