The rocking horse is one of the most universally-loved children’s toys in the world. In fact, it was inducted into the U.S. National Toy Hall of Fame in 2004. This sturdy toy spans cultural and regional differences. Many families hand down hobby horses from generation to generation. Today, hobby horses are made of all sorts of materials, from metal to wood to plastic. However, do you know the history of this popular toy?

How the rocking horse came to be

There’s nothing new about rocking horses. The first recorded mention of this toy dates back to the Persian Empire of around 400 B.C.E. Horses were a big part of Persian culture, so it’s easy to see why the smallest members of the family would want to have their own “mounts” even when they were too young to ride a real horse. Hobby horses were also mentioned in the Middle Ages, as children mimicked jousters and knights on horseback. Some of these early hobby horses were on wheels. Others were simply a wooden horse head mounted on broom sticks. The oldest known hobby horse to still be in existence dates back to the early 17th century and was owned by England’s King Charles I. It is displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The rocking part of the hobby horse is believed to have evolved from combining a wooden horse with a baby’s cradle. However, it was during the Victorian era in England that the bow to the rocker that we associate with a rocking horse was added, probably to prevent the horse from tipping over. A rocking horse was a standard of English middle and upper-class households of that era, and families looked at rocking horses as the first step to teaching their children to ride real horses. The safety stand was added in the late 19th century.

Twentieth century technology brought the advent of plastic rocking horses, but more recent computer technology has made it possible to create intricate wooden horses that would have taken too much time and labor previous. Because of this, the wooden rocking horse is experiencing a renaissance.

The rocking horse may not be a new toy, but it continues to be a beloved one. If you have a young son or daughter (or grandson or granddaughter), a wooden rocking horse is an addition to the household that they can not only enjoy, but one they can hand down to their children and grandchildren.