The rocking horse, offspring of the hobby horse, seems to have appeared first in the early 17th century. Not much more than a log with board sides, it may have been inspired by the cradle, according to Alec Kinane of Legends Rocking Horses in Buckinghamshire, England.
“The horse on bow rockers that we know and love today was a product of 18th century England,” Kinane says. “It was popular with the wealthy, and it is said they were used to help develop children’s balance for riding real horses.”
Kinane and his wife, Beverley, have been hand-carving and restoring rocking horses for 30 years. Their finely finished steeds, crafted from hardwoods like oak and cherry, with real horse hair manes and tails and leather saddles, sell for thousands of pounds.
Maggi Batch is a collector and dealer in antique rocking horses, in Norfolk England.
“When I was a child, because we came from a poor background, a rocking horse was just something we saw if we visited a stately home,” she says. “When I had children, they did eventually get a rocking horse — a fiberglass replica which was for its time a lovely item.
“I soon found that the antique ones, when restored with their patina, were addictively collectible, and so it went on.” ()
There are less elaborate wooden rocking horses, like KidKraft’s Derby horse. More of a horse-shaped rocking bench with yarn mane and tail, it’s nonetheless a sturdy-looking steed. (www.wayfair.com )
But for those who want a rocking toy they can put their arms around, consider the cuddlier versions that dominate the market now.
Designers are experimenting with rocking toys beyond the horse, as well. Woes and Pia Weinberg of the Netherlands use Kvadrat wool and French oak to create three style-savvy rocking toys in shapes that surprise: a gray cloud, a jaunty bowler hat and a slice of watermelon.
In collaboration with fashion designer Monique Lhuillier, Pottery Barn Kids has created a diminutive ride-on elephant. In shell-pink polyester velvet with dove-gray wooden handles and runners, it would appeal to the littlest ones and their style-savvy parents alike. There’s a creamy white horse in the collection, too. (www.potterybarnkids.com )
Rockabye’s Lambkin and Owliver rocking toys are low enough to the ground for the tiniest riders. Four buttons play songs about shapes, colors and ABC’s. (www.allmodern.com )