Crowds spilling onto the grounds of Queen Elizabeth’s estate, WindsorGreatPark, outside London, for the Windsor Horse Trials this past May clustered around a dark green van parked off to one side on which gold lettering spelled out the words “Stevenson Brothers.” When the van’s side panel swung open, people began to ooh and aah at the sight of eight magnificent rocking horses. Of various sizes, some were painted a dapple-gray, others were burnished natural wood. “I always wanted a rocking horse when I was little,” one woman said. “I’m going to buy one for my granddaughter for Christmas.” She’d best check the price tag first. These steeds are the Secretariats of today’s rocking horse world and, like their pedigreed counterparts, they don’t come cheap—from about $2,000 to $25,000 each.
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A Stevenson Brothers extra large black-walnut stallion, sturdy enough to carry an adult, costs $12,000. About $1,700 will saddle up a beautifully detailed medium dapple-gray—for children only. For those with extra deep pockets and a favorite colt or filly they’d like to memorialize, a full-sized sculpted replica costs some $26,000—plus tax. If that’s a budget breaker, the Stevensons also turn out a rocking sheep, made with genuine fleece and mounted on a bow rocker, you can call your own for a mere $400.
The van, the horses and the reputation for fine craftsmanship all belong to Marc and Tony Stevenson, 46-yearold fraternal twins who, in the little village of Bethersden (“The Rocking Horse Capital of the World”), some 50 miles southeast of London, are carrying on a 62-year-old family tradition begun in 1940 by their maternal uncle, James Bosworthick. The brothers promote their creations as “future antiques” built to last for generations. (The handcrafted horses may also be sized up at stevensonbros.com.)
Robert S.L. Nathan, manager of the British Toymakers Guild, says the first time he saw the brothers’ work 20 years ago, “I recognized immediately that their horses, with exceptionally fine carving and attention to detail, shone out like a good deed in a wicked world.” Denise Blaney, who with her husband, Ivan, owns Canada’s Mountain View Rocking Horse Farm, in Beamsville, Ontario, a prominent North American manufacturer of equine toys, says the Stevensons bridge past and present. “They uphold traditional Victorian designs,” she says, “and yet they’ve also managed to innovate by increasing the quality of workmanship.” England’s Therese Lang, who oversees an on-line shopping network, puts it more simply: “They’re the best.”
Though small clay horses on wheels have been discovered in graves from as early as 1200 B.C., the first toy horse that could be ridden was the hobby, or stick, horse that dates to Greek and Roman times. One story has it that Socrates himself, frolicking with his young sons, was spotted cantering about on a pole adorned by a horse head.