Hobby horse (toy)

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William Wallace Denslow's illustrations for a variant of Ride a cock horse, from a 1901 edition of Mother Goose.

A hobby horse (or hobby-horse) is a child's toy horse. Children played at riding a wooden hobby horse made of a straight stick with a small horse's head (of wood or stuffed fabric), and perhaps reins, attached to one end. The bottom end of the stick sometimes had a small wheel or wheels attached. This toy was also sometimes known as a cock horse (as in the nursery rhyme Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross) or stick horse.

Hobby horses feature in the worship of Rajasthani folk deity Baba Ramdevji, a reference to a story about his childhood; wooden toy horses are popular offerings at his temple at Ramdevra. They also figured in the public rites of the Romanian Călușari.[1]

Other meanings[edit]

A hobby horse is not always a riding-stick like the child's toy; larger hobby horses feature in some traditional seasonal customs (such as Mummers Plays and the Morris dance in England). They vary in size from a costume for one person to large frameworks carried by nine people.

In The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, the characters' hobby-horses, or particular obsessions, are discussed in detail. Here, Uncle Toby's obsession with the military leads him and Trim - who gets caught up in Toby's enthusiasm - to begin acting out military actions. Illustration by George Cruikshank.

From "hobby horse" (see Etymology, below) came the expression "to ride one's hobby-horse", meaning "to follow a favourite pastime", and in turn, the modern sense of the term hobby.[2]

The term is also connected to the draisine, a forerunner of the bicycle, invented by Baron Karl von Drais. In 1818, a London coach-maker named Denis Johnson began producing an improved version, which was popularly known as the "hobby-horse".[3]

The artistic movement, Dada, is possibly named after a French child's word for hobby-horse.[4]


The word hobby is glossed by the OED as "a small or middle-sized horse; an ambling or pacing horse; a pony." The word is attested in English from the 14th century, as Middle English hobyn. Old French had hobin or haubby, whence Modern French aubin and Italian ubino. But the Old French term is apparently adopted from English rather than vice versa. OED connects it to "the by-name Hobin, Hobby", a variant of Robin" (compare the abbreviation Hob for Robert). This appears to have been a name customarily given to a cart-horse, as attested by White Kennett in his Parochial Antiquities (1695), who stated that "Our ploughmen to some one of their cart-horses generally give the name of Hobin, the very word which Phil. Comines uses, Hist. VI. vii." Another familiar form of the same Christian name, Dobbin has also become a generic name for a cart-horse.

Samuel Johnson, Dictionary of the English Language, 1755, glosses "A strong, active horse, of a middle size, said to have been originally from Ireland; an ambling nag."

Further use[edit]

Hoblers or hovellers were men who kept a light nag that they may give instant information of threatened invasion. (Old French, hober, to move up and down; our hobby, q.v.) In mediæval times their duties were to reconnoitre, to carry intelligence, to harass stragglers, to act as spies, to intercept convoys, and to pursue fugitives. Henry Spelman (d. 1641) derived the word from "hobby".

Hobblers were another description of cavalry more lightly armed, and taken from the class of men rated at 15 pounds and upwards.

— John Lingard, The History of England, (1819), vol. iv. chap. ii. p. 116.

Border horses, called hobblers or hobbies, were small and active and trained to cross the most difficult and boggy country "and to get over where our footmen could scarce dare to follow." - George MacDonald Fraser, The Steel Bonnets, The Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers.

Hobby horse polo partly uses polo rules but has its own specialities, e.g. 'punitive sherries', and uses hobby horses instead of ponies. The hobby horse variant of polo started in 1998 as a fun sport in south western Germany and lead 2002 to the foundation of the First Kurfürstlich-Kurpfälzisch Polo-Club in Mannheim. It has since gained further interest in other German cities.[5]

In cartoons[edit]

The hobby horse has been used numerous times in classic cartoons and in some new ones incorporating a Wild West theme.

  • The Looney Tunes cartoon Buckaroo Bugs had Bugs Bunny riding a hobby horse while shooting a gun to escape from Red Hot Ryder as the Masked Marauder.
  • There is another Looney Tunes cartoon called Wagon Heels, and it shows Injun Joe using the toy to head to a massacre.
  • There is another Looney Tunes cartoon called Hobby Horse Laffs, but instead of a hobby horse in the title card, it shows a rocking horse instead.
  • There is a Merrie Melodies cartoon called I've Got to Sing a Torch Song. In one short scene, a caricature of Ed Wynn rode a revamped version of a hobby horse towards a microphone to make an announcement.
  • The Sheriff Callie's Wild West episode Peck Clowns Around had Peck dressed up as a rodeo clown riding a hobby horse instead of a real horse, like Sparky, that Sheriff Callie used in a rodeo. He thought it was humiliating, and he was laughed at by the entire audience, making Peck very angry.
  • One of Spot the Dog's toys is a hobby horse, usually stored under the stairs or in a closet in his house. It was used numerous times in Spot cartoons animated by King Rollo Films. In the Discover Spot episode Spot's Hobby Horse, Spot rides his hobby horse outdoors, then Steve takes a turn. When Helen strolls by the neighborhood to say hello to her friends, she is fascinated by Spot's hobby horse, so Steve hands it over to her. Steve then uses a stick as a hobby horse for the rest of this episode. Spot uses a broom and rides it like a hobby horse after failing to use a hose as one for the rest of this episode as well. The toy was also used in the Discover Spot episode Spot's Show, except it was used by Tom this time when he was pretending to be a cowboy in Spot's theatrical production. The Adventures of Spot episode Spot Goes to a Party has Spot dressed up as a cowboy going to a costume party. Sally gives him his hobby horse as an accessory to complete his look, explaining to him "Here's something else for your costume!" He then takes his hobby horse over to the party located at Helen's house but he left it over there. It is unknown if he ever picked up the toy from Helen's house to take back to his house. Instead of taking his hobby horse home, Spot rode home in a two-person yellow polka dotted horse costume, controlled by Steve and Tom, while acting like a cute little cowboy shouting "Howdy Mom! It was a great party!"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ O. Buhociu, Le folklore roumain de printemps, 1957, p. 250
  2. ^ "hobby," The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2010-06-26.
  3. ^ David V. Herlihy, Bicycle, Yale University Press, 2004; pp. 31-38.
  4. ^ Marc Dachy, Dada & les dadaïsmes, Paris, Gallimard, "Folio Essais", n° 257, 1994.
  5. ^ Spiegel online, Hamburg, Germany (27 September 2014). "Steckenpferdpolo: Trendsportart in Dsseldorf im Rheinpark".