A rocking horse is a child's toy, usually shaped like a horse and mounted on rockers similar to a rocking chair. These wonderful toys have given children throughout the ages hours and hours of fun, but where do they originate from?
The History of Rocking Horses
The history of rocking horses goes back as far as the Middle Ages in the United Kingdom when children used to ride around on hobby horses - a toy consisting of a stick with a model of a horse's head at one end. Hobby horses are still a popular toy today and can be found in many toy shops around the country.
Predecessors of the rocking horse may also be seen in the rocking cradle. This refers to the tilting seats used during the Middle Ages for jousting practice.
In the 16th century,the hobby horse was replaced by the barrel horse. This interesting development in the history of rocking horses was basically a round log with four legs and a pretend horse's head. Although quite simple in nature, it afforded hours of entertainment for the horse loving child.
The Bow Rocker
A hundred years later, the current incarnation of the rocking horse first appeared. The 17th century gave rise to the bow rocker - the first rocking horse in history that actually lived up to its name. The bow rocker was made out of solid wood and had a high centre of gravity. Consequently, these types of antique rocking horses could easily fall over and were not particularly safe by today's standards.
The Victorians Love of Rocking Horses
The Victorians added a safety stand to the Bow Rocker and hollowed out the horses too. This made them lighter and safer. It was also during this era that the inside of the horse was used as a secret compartment - much like in the wooden horse of Troy. Inside the body of the horse, the Victorians stored their secrets which included photos and coins for their descendants to discover.
Queen Victoria herself was a fan of the rocking horse which helped to increase their popularity. The most popular style during this time was the dappled grey rocking horse.
From the 1800s, rocking horses were considered to be a child's toy. They were built by artisans and hobbyists and ranged from crude wooden carvings to finely ornamented masterpieces. As the popularity increased, the production of rocking horses became industrialised.
Types of rocking horses
There are two main types of rocking horses in ex:
- the horse part sits rigidly attached to a pair of curved rockers that are in contact with the ground.
- the horse hangs on a rigid frame by iron straps the horse moves only relative to the frame, which does not move.
In the last century, due to the World Wars and the Great Depression, there was a large reduction in the production of rocking horses. By the middle of the century, it looked as if no one would be making rocking horses anymore. Luckily, there are still a number of the original antique rocking horses around and many craftsmen who are still working on these wonderful toys, restoring rocking horses to their former glory.