Children played with toy wooden horses during the Egyptian, Greek and Etruscan eras. Most of these were wheeled toys. Eventually, rockers were added. Rocking horses were popularised during the Victorian era, and nearly every nursery had one. Most of these toys were carved as three-dimensional representations of real horses, complete with mane, tail, tack and saddle. The rocking horse in this article is not suitable for use by children under age 5. This article assumes that the reader is familiar with the safe and correct use of power tools and woodworking tools.
Print a copy of the rocking horse image at Coloring Pages (see Resources), or use the rocking horse outline of your choice. Trace the image onto a clear plastic overhead sheet. Use an overhead projector to enlarge the image onto a flip chart pad. Make the enlargement approximately 3 to 4 feet long and 2 to 3 feet tall. Flip the image on the projector, and make a second enlargement facing right instead of left. You will need to trace both images onto a sheet of ½-inch-thick plywood, making a right and left side for the rocking horse.
Wear a painter's dust mask and wraparound eye protection during sawing and sanding. Use a jigsaw to cut the outline of the rocking horse sides. Use a belt sander to smooth all over both pieces, removing any burrs and rounding all edges. Use wood files to soften the edges of the tail, inside the curves of each end of the rockers and around the horse's head area. Sand the back and seat pieces smooth as well. Flatten the curve of the rocker bottoms slightly with the belt sander to improve the balance point.
Decide what colours to use on your rocking horse. The mane and tail should be the same colour. The saddle, bridle and the stirrup strap should be a colour that contrasts well against the horse's body. Paint the stirrup itself silver or gold. The rocker can be any colour of your choice. Paint your horse as desired. Be sure to have adequate ventilation while painting. If you can smell paint fumes, you do not have adequate ventilation. Allow to dry overnight. Apply two to three coats of clear acrylic finish to all pieces of your rocking horse, including the back and seat pieces.
Drill 1/8-inch-diameter pilot holes on each rocking horse side piece near the hooves. Find the centre point at each end of the two rocker braces, and drill 1/8-inch-diameter pilot holes at each end of each brace. Screw braces into place. This will make the rocker more durable.
Use a carpenter's level and no. 2 pencil to make a horizontal line on the inner sides of each horse, for the seat bottom placement. Drill two 1/8-inch-diameter pilot holes at each end, about 2 inches from the head and tail ends of the rocking horse. Screw the seat bottom into place, leaving the screws loosened ¼ inch. Repeat for the seat back. The white portion of the rocking horse image in this step shows the screw placement and approximate seat back and bottom placement. Adjust seat bottom length back height and back angle, as needed, for the comfort of the child who will be using the rocking horse.
Wear a painter's dust mask and wraparound eye protection during sawing and sanding. Be sure to have adequate ventilation while painting. If you can smell paint fumes, you do not have adequate ventilation.