Five days a week, the workshop hums with the whir of electric sanders; wooden and cardboard templates of legs and heads hang from hooks on a wall, and heads that didn’t make the grade line a shelf. (One is cross-eyed, another missing an ear.) In the finishing room, assistant Matthew Clift combs real horsehair for manes and tails. Leatherworkers craft bridles, suede saddles and stirrups.
According to the Stevensons, most children prefer the brightly painted dappled horses that were popular during the Victorian era. Adults lean toward natural wood—walnut bays, maple palominos, and the ebonized walnut millennium horse, produced as a limited edition. Some grown-ups have special requests. A customer from Naples, Florida (about 20 percent of the Stevensons’ output goes to the United States), asked for “soft eyes, please.”
In the tiny village of Fangfoss, some 250 miles north of the Stevensons’ workshop, Anthony Dew, 54, employs 12 craftspeople and turns out some 50 beautifully crafted rocking horses a year. As an art student at BingleyCollege near Bradford, West Yorkshire, in 1976, Dew read a newspaper story about the Stevensons’ uncle, James Bosworthick, called him up and arranged a visit to his workshop. “It was hot, and I had to walk ten miles from the bus stop,” recalls Dew, “but once I saw him surrounded by the horses he’d made and talked to him, I knew this was what I wanted to do.”
Unlike the Stevensons, Dew (Web address: rockinghorse.co.uk) specializes in selling blueprints and parts for amateurs who want to make their own horses. “Most people think they can’t do it,” he says, “but with the right tools and instruction, they can.” Dew estimates that some 35,000 people around the world have created rocking horses using his kits and designs. Robert Nathan of the British Toymakers Guild regards Dew as “one of a rare breed of craftsmen” who “not only possesses great talent but is prepared to share his expertise.”
Dew also founded the Guild of Rocking Horse Makers, a loosely organized association whose only membership requirement is to have made at least one rocking horse using hand tools. Currently, the guild has 580 members in 14 countries around the world.