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A brief tale of the history of the rocking horses
Baby rocking horses and rocking horses for toddlers are one of the must-have gifts and decors in our modern-day nurseries. They have been adopted by our western families for centuries. There have been many royal links in the history with rocking horses in the past, as well as the present. A wooden rocking horse for babies is usually a centrepiece of any nurseries. And the benefits of rocking horses seem to have been recognised as early as the early 1600s. Let’s take a look at its brief tale of the history of rocking horses.
Earliest form of rocking horses
It was believed one of the earliest forms of a ‘riding horse’ is simply a hobby horse type toy with a carved horse head attached on a stick, some may also have had a wheel at the end of the stick. Other ancestors of the rocking horses may also be found in the form of a rocking cradle and seat used during the Middle Ages apparently for jousting practice. (Referred to these blog posts - Post A & B)
Earliest known rocking horse
One of the amazing artifacts that V&A Museum has recently acquired, is a traditional wooden old fashioned form of a rocking horse, believed to have had belonged to a royal history figure, a king in fact. King Charles I of England, ‘one of Britain's most equestrian kings’ was believed to have used this rocking horse to help him develop his walking and leg mobility during his early childhood development phase after he was born in 1600 (V&A Museum).
(Picture courtesy of V&A Museum)
According to the V&A Museum, “Sir Robert and Lady Carey, his guardians between 1605 and 1611, arranged remedial treatment, and it has been suggested that this may have included a rocking horse to provide exercise and strengthen his legs. If this horse were his, it would probably date from 1605-08. By 1610 he had made great progress in mobility, and could walk, ride, take tennis coaching from Master Jehu Webb, and dance.” (V&A Museum)
(Picture courtesy of V&A Museum)
This rocking horse is the earliest known rocking horse in the form of a ‘bow rocker’, which is the traditional mechanism of the rocking horses we see today (please refer to our rocking horse buying guide to learn more about horse mechanism).
Later Development of Rocking Horses
Rocking horses had become more and more popular and by the 1800s rocking horses were considered as a common children's toy.
In 1880, an alternative rocking horse mechanism was designed by an American inventor (please refer to our article). This new glider-type base was safer than the classic bow rockers and required less space for the toy’s movement. Classic rocking chairs moved forward when used, while the new horse stayed in one place.
Continuing its royal link, it was believed that Prince Albert had brought in rocking horses as part of his Christmas rituals that later became our household traditions (like having a Christmas tree in our home) to Queen Victoria (Referred to this blog post). Queen Victoria was also believed to have transformed the business of a British rocking horse maker - J. Collinson and Sons of Liverpool after her visit to the company. She arrived riding a dapple grey horse and since then the company only has made dapple grey rocking horses as their products (Referred to this site).
Modern obsession with Rocking Horses and Decline of Horse Makers
Even our Queen Elizabeth II had thoroughly enjoyed the fun of a rocking horse, being a horse lover herself. A recent exhibition in 2014 at the Buckingham Palace displayed some of the queen’s toys and lovely custom made rocking horses was one of the items. You can see from this photo below released by the Royal Collection Trust, Queen Elizabeth was riding the rocking horse with her sister Margaret.
(Picture courtesy of Royal Collection Trust)
Although traditional rocking horse makers have indeed reduced significantly over the last century, due to the fact that these rocking horses are costly to purchase and our modern homes have certainly reduced their sizes in a common terraced or semi-detached house. Traditional horses are simply too large to store in our contemporary houses. Traditional rocking horse making is now seen as a heritage craft and the industry has 51-100 craftsman still in trade.
Nevertheless, our obsession with rocking horses certainly hasn’t died. Our modern toymakers have created affordable, smaller rocking horses for our modern-day babies and toddlers. So this tradition of love of the rocking horses can be passed on more future generations to come.
The benefits of rocking horses for your baby and toddler are simply abundant. As mentioned, even Charles I was believed to have used rocking horses as one of the remedial treatments to help train his leg and body muscles in his early childhood. We have a detailed article to give you more information about the benefits of rocking horses here - including the physical and sensory benefits, special needs benefits, and emotional and mental benefits.
If you are ready to buy a lovely rocking horse or animal for your little one, we have a buying guide to help you understand how to pick the best rocking horse for your baby and toddler here.
We specialise in rocking horses in our shop, many can be personalised for free. If you are interested to take a look, please feel free to browse our shop via our links below. Simply click on the image for the relevant collection to get started!