Rocking Horse Conservation

An old rocking horse in well-preserved original condition has its own value and beauty, and tells a very different story from one that has had a major overhaul. In the same way, a rare or especially valuable one that has anything original remaining serves as a window into the past and the golden age of rocking horse manufacture.

We always encourage preserving all original features (whenever possible and practical), respecting the horse's historical integrity and the value of paint and harness put on in a factory long gone. Sometimes it means that a horse should be retired from service, but particularly if a horse is unusual in the long run that's better, as original horses become scarcer with time.

A rocking horse that has been conserved is probably not the best choice for play by young children, so if you have a horse in original condition in mind as a toy or you would like to revive a well-preserved and rare old horse for a new generation's pleasure, it is worth considering how well it will survive and perhaps let children play with one that doesn't have irreplaceable finishes.



Azrac is a No 4 Bartlett that came with lovely original paint, gesso that was starting to flake around where it had been knocked by use. The usual signs or wear and age: cracked leather, brittle thin hair, tatty saddle cloths etc.

Azrac's surface was fixed, sealed and given a clear coat in a patina that exactly matches the original. The stand was likewise cleaned and sealed - again in varnish matching original patina. Saddle was partially removed, thoroughly cleaned, broken leather repaired (not replaced) and finally all was replaced with original pins in original positions. Only hair, saddle cloths and stirrup leathers are new. Saddle cloths are a match to original.





Ariadne is a wonderfully original bow horse by JR Smith, circa 1910. It is fairly uncommon to see bows in such good condition - as beautiful as they look, bows are not the most durable base for a rocking horse. They are particularly prone to worm infestation, and the design is not well-engineered. Bows flatten at the bottom or crack under weight, usually taking leg joints with them, which in turn can damage or destroy gesso and paint. Add to that the likelihood of old horses having been given a lick of enamel by a well-meaning parent or grandparent... well, Ariadne is special. Fortunately her buyer appreciated her originality so Ariadne had nothing more than conservation work carried out with no restoration. Dirt from decades of standing in a barn was gently cleaned off, all surfaces sealed to protect from further deterioation and brittle leather was reconditioned as much as possible. (Ariadne has gone to a new home in New Zealand).



Georgie is an exceptional example of a No 3 Roebuck rocking horse, dating to around about 1915-1920. Aside from new tack created to look as close to exactly like old as possible, she is absolutely original condition which makes her a very beautiful horse and a valuable example of Roebuck rocking horse making in a time when a rocking horse was an expensive luxury item, made by hand.

Georgie has been be gently cleaned, sealed and stand cleaned of decades' worth of garage grime without damaging the wood. She has been given new hair in a colour that complements her colouring. Her owners remember her with tack and we have tried to recreate it as accurately as possible. In the absence of exact trim, we have used antique cotton trim on the saddle cloths in keeping with the original style. Original rosettes that weren't too frail have been reused.




More to be added...































No detail is too small to be worth paying attention to:

Azrac's faded saddle cloth had enough to see what the fabric looked like. We matched the fabric fibre and texture exactly, but the colour wasn't quite right so we hand-dyed it to match.

(triangular piece is original, bright red is what we started with, background is what was finally good enough)























































Filthy stand cleaned and rebeautified, paint and flaking gesso stabilised. The owners' childhood memories are of Georgie with tack and that's how they wanted her to look, so we have recreated the tack as closely as possible using remaining fragments. We matched old red with oxblood, and found a little original royal blue saddle (not so bright as it looks in the photo. Georgie is now a worthy family heirloom deserving a place of pride.