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.
It may have been Queen Victoria’s love of the rocking horse that led to its becoming a children’s favourite.
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 ‚Äî 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.” (www.rockinghorseheaven.com )
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 )
Land of Nod’s sleek, minimalist black stallion, crafted of birch and alderwood, would blend in well with contemporary decor. (www.landofnod.com )
But for those who want a rocking toy they can put their arms around, consider the cuddlier versions that dominate the market now.
Charm Company’s Hercules is a regal creature made of soft chestnut plush on a wooden frame; squeeze his ear and his mouth and tail move. Trademark Games’ Happy Trails rocking horse is a cowgirl-friendly pink confection, complete with silvery ears and a battery-operated neigh. (www.toysrus.com )
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 grey 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-grey 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 )