Choosing a Rocking Horse to buy

The selection and purchase of a rocking horse is a uniquely emotional and personal experience, that many grown men and women - myself included - end up in tears, they are so overcome with emotion on finding "The One" (or seeing an old childhood friend restored to how it once was). The first rocking horse you buy is a choice preferably not to be rushed into, but if you have already "been there, done that" hopefully your first buy was a good one.

The very best guide to the rocking horse that's right for you is your own heart, no matter what anyone might say about what particular kind of horse you must or must not have. A rocking horse does not need to conform to any ideal of what it should be to endear itself to you and be a cherished possession and if YOU love it - it's right for you.

A useful rule of thumb is to choose the one that you can't stop thinking about (that suits your purposes).

Don't rush - time after time, I have observed and experienced that if you miss out on a horse that you like but for whatever reason you aren't sure, there is almost always another chance to get a similar or better one, so there is no need to panic if you miss out or overextend yourself financially if you aren't ready.

Some useful pointers to help you get started:

1. Decide what you want the rocking horse for. Is it to be a child's toy, and will it be kept or sold/passed on when outgrown? Is it to become a family heirloom? Is it to be a decorative item? Do you want the one most likely to appreciate in value? Does it matter to you if it is rare or comes with a prestigious name or not? Is it to fill a gap in a collection? Do you think you might want to start a collection?

2. Decide your budget, and work out in advance whether you can stretch if necessary or not so you don't find yourself missing out on one that's Just Right OR overspending.

3. Do you want a new or vintage/antique rocking horse? There are many makers who make beautiful new toys for a wide range of prices. New professionally made toys are made (or should be) subject to safety standards covering design, materials and accessories; they should also be free of age-related wobbles, creaks and cracks (they will develop them in time). If you like the appeal of an old rocking horse, there is no reason a sound antique can't be used and it will still have many years of service if it's not allowed to fall into disrepair. It is also more likely to retain its value should you wish to sell it in future.

4. Do you want a finished product or to have a horse restored? It is enormously satisfying to see a sad, tired old horse brought back to life. The transformation can be unbelievable. It also costs less than buying one already restored, if you have the time to wait. Bear in mind that unless you are confident to do the restoration yourself, you should be prepared for a long wait for a good job - this can be years.

5. Do some research. This is a LOT more fun than it might sound, learning about rocking horses is a fascinating and absorbing pastime in itself and you may find as you look deeper you prefer something completely other than what you originally had in mind. Notice what characteristics appeal to you, eg collected or "flying", feminine, masculine, gentle, cute, spirited... they all have their own personalities! Do you find yourself admiring horses in original or restored condition, and what appeals to you in a restoration? There is a wealth of information online, particularly on a number of excellent English sites. Learn about the different styles each maker had so you can recognise a good individual horse - name isn't everything, even the best makers turned out unattractive horses sometimes while there are gorgeous unattributed ones. I see no reason to pay a premium price for an inferior horse with a famous name when there might be a beautiful horse from another maker for much less.

6. Once you find a rocking horse that appeals, verify any claims about its age and maker, and by all means - shop around to make sure the asking price is appopriate. There is once again a wealth of information available that is much better than I can assemble, Jane Hooker's site has wonderful resources describing the different English makes... and how to spot a fake.

7. Particularly if buying for a child, find out all you can about a restored horse's condition prior to restoration. The extent of repair may affect the horse's suitability for play and value. Ask to see photographs taken before and during restoration to be sure that any structural damage has been dealt with properly and not just disguised. We know the condition of all our horses when they arrive, disclose all repairs we may have made and will never suggest one we would not be confident putting our children on.

8. Don't let anyone push you, or talk yourself, into buying a rocking horse you are uncertain about - if you love it, you won't need much encouragement. In fact it will probably be impossible to stop you from buying it.

9. If buying from a maker or dealer, find out what help you can get after purchase if you need it. This is obviously difficult or impossible if buying overseas. Even with the best intentions and care, these are elderly boys and girls and things can be missed or happen after repair. A seller with a conscience will make amends if it does. Wherever you buy - find out what you can do if there is something wrong with it.

10. In long-distance purchases, be very sure of what you are buying so you can prove if it was damaged in transit and make a successful insurance claim, or if it is not what was represented to you. Get a comprehensive condition report that describes all wear, cracks, breaks and scuffs, clear photographs of the horse from all sides as well as accurate dimensions.Finally, be aware that shipping is the least expensive component of importation, with likely imporation cost of $1900 (AUD) after port costs, taxes and Customs fees for a single rocking horse, this goes up with the value of the horse.

A reputable seller will not hesitate to answer all your questions clearly and honestly, disclosing all points relevant to your decision. They should:

  • Listen to you and recommend what matches your description of what YOU want, not what they need to sell (SELL you what you want, not TELL you what you want)
  • Help you if something is wrong with it after you have bought it.


Most importantly: Enjoy the "ride"!








Bartlett with its distinctive dappling style and swan neck is an attractive and child friendly choice. Harness can be quite colourful.

These are also prized by collectors, some models in particular.








Many people have fond memories of growing up with a Roebuck. They are easily found, inexpensive and although adults may not always like the bright colours and simple dappling style this is exactly what makes them so appealing to children.




An older Roebuck can still be perfectly fit for use and can also appeal to collectors or someone who prefers the classical look. These old horses are a wonderful bit of Australian rocking horse history. They can be hard to find and hard to recognise as valuable as so many have lost their stands





A beautiful horse in original condition is a joy to behold.

A large horse such as this looks amazing but can be difficult to climb on for little people and very heavy to move for cleaning around.

Old paint almost certainly contains lead and fully restored horses are recommended for play by children.




Bow rockers are what most people picture when they think of rocking horses. While beautiful, they can be impractical for riding by children.

A horse in such wonderful original condition is precious and it would be a pity to see it damaged further. This horse has been conserved and should be preserved for the future.





A beautiful English horse, fully restored, is a wonderful addition to a decor and a serviceable toy fit for many more years of use.

This is a plain carved Lines "No 21 Improved Design", reasonably common and reasonably priced.




Lines Sportiboy is an excellent entry level English horse. These are common and a lower-priced alternative. Some, like Edmund, are very cute with a distinctive G&J Lines look about them. They offer the added fun of removeable saddles.




Suitable for the collector/investor but still fit for use - a beautiful extra-carved Ayres waiting to be returned to former glory









Ayres "D Type", "special extra carved" is worthy of the rocking horse connoisseur. Seigfried can still be ridden, with the added appeal of removable harness. This horse will be stunning once restored correctly.