How to Make Your Own Hobby Horse
Hobby horses and similar creatures can bring excitement to an occasion by their unpredictable antics.
There are three main types based on historical precedents and traditional practice. These are the tourney horse which fits around the middle of the body with the 'rider's' torso standing proud, the mast horse where the head is balanced on a pole and the operator is concealed beneath a fabric body and the mask horse where the user supports the head upon his or her own shoulders.
A small horse of the tourney type can be made from a large plastic hoop if one is to hand, otherwise a simple frame can be made from thin wooden strips bent round and glued and pinned together. A heavy fabric is needed to drape the frame with, hessian is a ideal material. The fabric, cut into two pieces one round for the top and the other for the skirt, is glued or stapled onto the frame. A tail is made from several strands of frayed string whilst the head is best cut from wood. The carpentry and carving skills involved in working from a solid block of wood through to an articulated horse's head are beyond most of us although it is sometimes possible to find an enthusiast who will help out. As an alternative a head can be easily worked from a 'sandwich' of three short planks which can be individually cut to shape then glued together prior to sanding and painting. With a little ingenuity the horse's mouth can be made to open and close and even pick up small objects. The head needs to be fastened to a neck,a stout cardboard tube can be useful here not only as a support but also as a channel along which controls can be run. The head and neck can either be held by the operator's concealed hands, in which case it can be made to do all sorts of surprising things,or it can simply be joined to the main frame.
If the operator is to be concealed after the fashion on the modern Padstow and Minehead horses then a hole is cut centrally in the top piece of cloth so that the operator's head will pass through, the weight of the horse is then carried directly on the shoulders and the cloth may need reinforcing accordingly. The head should be hidden by a mask of some sort, again, following the Padstow pattern, a tall cone shaped mask can be built around a wire frame which is then draped in fabric with either painted or stitched decoration. If the operators head, shoulders and arms are to be free they should be clothed appropriately as a hunts man, jockey or cavalry man perhaps. In this case it is important to ensure that the horse and rider do not come apart. The horse can either be suspended on 'braces' which will slip over the shoulders or fixed to a belt which straps securely around the waist.These principles of construction can be adapted to make a variety of other animals such as unicorns dragons or even ostriches
The second type of horse figure, and in many ways the more dramatic, is the mast horse where again the method of construction can be modified into other animal forms.
A large head for a horse of the mast type can be made over a frame of chicken wire that has been moulded to the correct shape. Strips of newspaper soaked in thick adhesive paste are then wrapped around the frame until it is completely covered, when the first layer is dry the process should be repeated until a thickness of around half a centimetre has been built up.
Once completed and dry holes can be cut for eyes and nostrils and ears stuck on. The head can then be painted and made waterproof and then decorated with brown or black wool for a mane and by the addition of rosettes and a bridle. The space inside the head can be used for fitting all sorts of 'refinements' such as battery powered flashing eyes.
The head is then mounted on its pole and a blanket or similar piece of material stitched in place around the back of the neck. Some sort of tie is generally provided to stop the blanket blowing clear of the operator's body in windy conditions and a string tail fixed at the back of the blanket to trail along the ground.
The third alternative is for the head can be adjusted so as to sit over the head of the person taking the part. Care needs to be taken with a wire frame that there are no sharp edges that might catch the face. With suitable padding inside and ties to fasten below the chin the mask can be made to fit quite snugly. More experienced craft workers may wish to experiment with materials like latex rubber or glass fibre for these animal disguises.
A fitted head tends to demand a more carefully thought out body covering as the user's posture will be more upright. Examples have ranged from an all enveloping red velvet cloak to dressing a unicorn in period doublet and hose.