A rocking horse is a child's toy, usually shaped like a horse and mounted on rockers similar to a rocking chair.
Precedessors of the rocking horse may be seen in the rocking cradle, the tilting seats used during the middle ages for jousting practice as well as the wheeled hobby horse. The toy in its current form did not appear before the 17th century, though some conflicting sources note medieval manuscripts including references to carved rocking horses, presumably of the toy kind.
From the 1800s onward rocking horses became more commonly considered as children's toys. Mostly the domain of hobby woodcrafters, and ranging from relatively crude to finely ornamented and the toys of future kings, it was not until the late 19th century that the production became industrialised.
In 2006, the Guinness Book of World Records certified Cindy and Les Hartness of California as having the largest hand-carved wooden rocking horse on record. This rocking horse was built in 2000 and is 7 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 1,200 pounds. It can be seen at renaissance faires, where up to 4 adults can ride it together at one time.
The most famous traditional British hobby horses are probably those of the May Day 'Obby 'Oss festival in Padstow, Cornwall. They are made from a circular framework, tightly covered with shiny black material, carried on the shoulders of a dancer whose face is hidden by a grotesque mask attached to a tall, pointed hat. A skirt (made from the same material) hangs down from the edge of the frame to around knee-height. There is a small, wooden, horse's head with snapping jaws, attached to a long, straight neck, with a long mane, which sticks out from the front of the frame. On the opposite side there is a small tail of horsehair.
There are two rival horses and their fiercely loyal bands of supporters at Padstow: the 'Old 'Oss is decorated with white and red, and its supporters wear red scarves to show their allegiance; the Blue Ribbon 'Oss (or "Peace 'Oss") is decorated with white and blue and its supporters follow suit. A "Teaser" waving a padded club dances in front of each 'Oss, accompanied, as they dance through the narrow streets, by a lively band of melodeons, accordions and drums playing Padstow's traditional May Song. The 'Osses sometimes capture young women beneath the skirt of the hobby horse; often they emerge smeared with black.
Children sometimes make "Colt" 'Osses and hold their own May Day parades.
At Minehead in Somerset there are also two rival hobby horses, the Sailor's Horse and the Town Horse. They appear on May Eve (called "Show Night"), on May Day morning (when they salute the sunrise at a crossroads on the ouskirts of town), 2 May and 3 May (when a ceremony called "The Bootie" takes place in the evening at part of town called Cher). Each horse is made of a boat-shaped wooden frame, pointed and built up at each end, which is carried on the dancer's shoulders. As at Padstow, his face is hidden by a mask attached to a tall, pointed hat. The top surface of the horse is covered with ribbons and strips of fabric. A long fabric skirt, painted with rows of multicoloured roundels, hangs down to the ground all round. A long tail is attached to the back of the frame. Each horse is accompanied by a small group of musicians and attendants. The Town Horse is accompanied by "Gullivers", dressed similarly to the horse but without the large frame; as at Padstow, smaller, children's horses have sometimes been constructed. The horses' visits are (or were) believed to bring good luck. In the past there was also a similar hobby horse based at the nearby village of Dunster, which would sometimes visit Minehead.
What's your Rocking Horse worth? Here are some recently sold items.
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