WHAT IS A HOBBY HORSE?

Across the world there can be found historic images and references to an allegory representing male sexual prowess - the Hobby Horse. Here is shown "Lajkonik" from Krakow in Poland.

The horse has always been a symbol of power and virility and it is therefore no wonder that man adopted this as a symbol of his own vigour and created a character through which he can parody his own sexuality.

The Hobby Horse character takes the form of a man-beast, the beast being a representation of the horse of which there are three types, the Tourney horse (as ESMM's Billy) which fits around the middle of the riders waist, the Mask horse where the rider wears the head upon his shoulders, and the Mast or Hooden horse where the horse head is on the end of a stick with the rider hidden underneath a fabric coating. A child's hobby horse is a cut-down version of the tourney horse and the way it is ridden provides a powerful sexual reference.

Billy - ESMM Tourney Horse

Thanet Mask Horse

Ewell Mast Horse

The role of the Hobby Horse with the Morris is twofold, firstly a symbol of male sexuality and virility in line with the fertility aspects of the dance, and secondly as a vehicle for communication with the audience - particularly children, where the horse speaks through the rider.

How old is the Hobby Horse? No-one really knows, but there are early references. as shown in a section of the C16 Betley Window (now in the V&A museum) and a C17 painting - both showing a Tourney hobby horse.

 

The Hobby Horse is not only found associated with Morris Dancing - although there are many examples of this. Originally the Horse was a character in it's own right and was used to entertain in a similar way to the Fool or Jester at public events. One famous example in the UK is the "Cock Horse of Banbury Cross" as in the children's nursery rhyme, although as with many other rhymes, the meaning may have more to do with references to "men's play" rather than "child's play".