Hobby horse

Hobby horse

The term hobby horse is used, principally by folklorists, to refer to the costumed characters that feature in some traditional seasonal customs, processions and similar observances around the world. They are particularly associated with May Day celebrations, Mummers Plays and the Morris dance in England.


Types of hobby horse

Hobby horses may be constructed in several different ways. The types most frequently found in the United Kingdom have been categorised as follows:[1]

  • Tourney horses are meant to look like a person riding a small horse that is wearing a long cloth coat or caparison (as seen in medieval illustrations of jousting knights). A circular or oval frame is suspended around their waist, or chest, with a skirt draped over it hanging down to the ground. The frame has a carved wooden head, often with snapping jaws (operated by pulling a string) attached to it at one end, and a tail at the other. The "rider" may wear a cape or other flowing costume to help cover the frame. In the most elaborate versions, fake legs, meant to be those of the rider, hang down the sides of the skirt, though this seems to be a fairly recent development.[2]
  • Sieve horses are a simpler version of the tourney horse. Known only in Lincolnshire, they are made from a farm sieve frame, with head and tail attached, suspended from the performer's shoulders. The performer wears a horse blanket (the kind that includes a headpiece with holes for the eyes and ears) that covers them and the sieve.[1]
  • Mast horses are meant to represent the horse (or other animal) itself. They have a head made of wood, or sometimes an actual horse's skull is used; it usually has hinged jaws that can be made to snap. The head is attached to a stick about 1m (3ft) long. The person acting the creature is covered by a cloth attached to the back of its head; he (or, rarely, she) bends over forwards or crouches, holding the head in front of their own and resting the other end of the stick on the ground. A tail may be attached to the back of the cloth.[1] When the cloth is long enough, such as the sheet used by the Welsh Mari Lwyd, the performer can also stand up, lifting the head in front of their face or above their head.

Not all hobby horses fit into these categories, even within the UK. The famous May Day horses at Padstow and Minehead are large constructions, suspended at shoulder level, with only the performer's head emerging; they wear tall, pointed hats and their faces are masked. The Padstow horses have circular frames, with fairly small, snapping-jawed heads on long, straight necks;[3] the Minehead horses are more boat-shaped, with pointed ends and, since about 1880, have had no heads, though they have long, trailing tails, about 2.2m (7ft) long.[4]

In the South of France, and elsewhere, large hobby horses (and other animals) are carried by multiple performers; their hollow frameworks are constructed in various ways; in Indonesia, flat silhouettes of horses are suspended between the dancers' legs (see individual entries, below).



May Day hobby horses

The Old 'Oss capturing a young woman during the May Day festival at Padstow, Cornwall

The most famous traditional British hobby horses are probably those of the May Day 'Obby 'Oss festival in Padstow, Cornwall. They are made from a circular framework, tightly covered with shiny black material, carried on the shoulders of a dancer whose face is hidden by a grotesque mask attached to a tall, pointed hat. A skirt (made from the same material) hangs down from the edge of the frame to around knee-height. There is a small, wooden, horse's head with snapping jaws, attached to a long, straight neck, with a long mane, which sticks out from the front of the frame. On the opposite side there is a small tail of horsehair.

There are two rival horses and their fiercely loyal bands of supporters at Padstow: the Old 'Oss is decorated with white and red, and its supporters wear red scarves to show their allegiance; the Blue Ribbon 'Oss (or "Peace 'Oss") is decorated with white and blue and its supporters follow suit [3]. A "Teaser" waving a padded club dances in front of each 'Oss, accompanied, as they dance through the narrow streets, by a lively band of melodeons, accordions and drums playing Padstow's traditional May Song. The 'Osses sometimes capture young women beneath the skirt of the hobby horse; often they emerge smeared with black.[5]

Children sometimes make "Colt" 'Osses and hold their own May Day parades.

Minehead Hobby Horse

At Minehead in Somerset there are three rival hobby horses, the Original Sailor's Horse, the Traditional Sailor's Horse and the Town Horse. They appear on May Eve (called "Show Night"), on May Day morning (when they salute the sunrise at a crossroads on the ouskirts of town), 2 May and 3 May (when a ceremony called "The Bootie" takes place in the evening at part of town called Cher) [4]. Each horse is made of a boat-shaped wooden frame, pointed and built up at each end, which is carried on the dancer's shoulders. As at Padstow, his face is hidden by a mask attached to a tall, pointed hat. The top surface of the horse is covered with ribbons and strips of fabric. A long fabric skirt, painted with rows of multicoloured roundels, hangs down to the ground all round. A long tail is attached to the back of the frame. Each horse is accompanied by a small group of musicians and attendants. The Town Horse is accompanied by "Gullivers", dressed similarly to the horse but without the large frame; as at Padstow, smaller, children's horses have sometimes been constructed [5]. The horses' visits are (or were) believed to bring good luck.

In the past there was also a similar hobby horse based at the nearby village of Dunster, which would sometimes visit Minehead [6]. The Minehead horse has also visited Dunster Castle on May Day.[5]

Hunting the Earl of Rone

At Combe Martin in Devon a custom called "The Hunting of the Earl of Rone" took place on Ascension Day until 1837, when it was banned. It was revived in 1974 and now takes place over the four days of Spring Bank Holiday. A fool and a hobby horse, accompanied by grenadiers, search the village for the Earl, who is finally captured, mounted onto a (real) donkey and paraded through the village. He is frequently shot at by the soldiers, falls from his mount, and is revived by the hobby horse and the fool, and returned to his mount. Finally, on reaching the beach, the Earl is executed and thrown into the sea. [7][5]

Morris and other ritual dance

A hobby horse is depicted in a stained glass window, dating from between 1550–1621, from Betley Hall, Staffordshire, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, directly below a Maypole and surrounded by what appear to be morris dancers (accession no. C.248-1976) [8].

A painting from c.1620, now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, shows Morris dancers by the Thames at Richmond; their party includes a hobby horse.[9]

Some historical English Morris dance "sides" (teams) had hobby horses associated with them, but the popularity of such animals with morris sides today probably dates from the early years of the morris revival, when Ilmington Morris created a tourney horse, ridden by Sam Bennett for many years. Some modern revival sides have extended their animal repertoire in various imaginative and appropriate ways, e.g. Pig Dyke Molly molly dancers, who wear black and white costumes and makeup, have a hobby zebra.

A hobby horse takes part in the ancient Abbots Bromley Horn Dance. The old original horse (see gallery, above) has been replaced by a more realistic carving in recent years.

Other customs including hobby horses

Hodening or Hoodening

A custom which took place at, or in the lead-up to, Christmas in eastern Kent, involving a group of ploughmen or other farmworkers leading a Hooden Horse (a horse's head made of wood, set on a short pole, with snapping jaws (sometimes set with nails for teeth) operated by a person hidden under a piece of sacking or a stable-blanket to represent the animal's body). The custom, described as "only just extinct" by folklorist Violet Alford in 1952, has since been revived in various places.[6][5]

Laare Vane

A New Year custom from the Isle of Man, involving a white-painted wooden horse's head with red-painted snapping jaws, with a white sheet attached. Draped in the sheet, a man would carry the head, racing unexpectedly into the room and chase any girls present out of the house, followed by the rest of the company. When the Laare Vane (white mare) caught a girl she would take his place under the sheet to carry the horse back into the house, sitting away from the others while a kind of sword-dance was performed with sticks by six male dancers to the tune "Mylecharane's March" played on the fiddle. As the climax of the dance the fiddler would enter the circle of dancers and be imprisoned by their intertwined sticks; the dancers then, with wild cries, "cut off his head" and he fell to the ground. The "dead" fiddler was then blindfolded and led to the Laare Vane, and knelt with his head in her lap. Another person would question the fiddler about events in the coming year (particularly who would become Valentines) and his replies were believed to be true predictions.[7]

A Welsh Mari Lwyd - with Christmas tree baubles for eyes!
Mari Lwyd
The modern Cornish Penglaz
The Antrobus Soul-cakers with Dick, the Wild Horse (mid 1970s)

A similar creature, the Mari Lwyd ("Grey Mare" in English), also made from a horse's skull, with a white sheet attached, took part in New Year house-visiting, luck-bringing rituals in south-east Wales. Gaining access to the house was a challenge; the Mari Lwyd party and those in the house took turns to improvise verses of a song. If the household failed to come up with a final verse the Mari was allowed to enter; if not, it was turned away. The custom has been revived in recent years.[5]

Old Horse

In parts of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and around Sheffield there existed, into the early 20th century (and until 1970 at Dore[8]) a Christmas and New Year custom of going from house to house performing a short play or dramatised song called The Old Horse, T'Owd 'Oss or Poor Old Horse. The horse was of the "mast" type, constructed in a similar way to the Wild Horse of the Soul-cakers and the hooden horses of Kent. The earliest record is from 1840, at Ashford-in-the-Water, Derbyshire.[9]

An outlier of this type of performance occurred at Richmond, Yorkshire into the mid 20th century; at Christmas, three men dressed in hunting pink led a horse "made from the stuffed skin of a horse's head on a pole" and the man who played it hidden under a horse-blanket. The men sang the Poor Old Horse song and the horse snapped its jaws at the end of each verse.[10]

Penglas or Penglaz

The name of this creature from Cornwall translates as "grey head". It was a "hooden" or "mast" type of horse, either carved from wood or made from a horse's skull, like the Welsh Mari Lwyd, and accompanied the Christmas Guisers. Its body was a horse's hide or horse cloth. Sometimes it was led or ridden by Old Penglaze, a man with a blackened face who carried a staff. The animal has been revived in Penzance in recent years as Penglaz the Penzance 'Obby 'Oss and now appears on "Mazey Eve" and 23 June (St John's Eve) as part of a modern Midsummer festival, instead of around midwinter.

Plough Monday mummers

In Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire and some other parts of the East Midlands of England, mummers' plays were performed, on or around Plough Monday in early January, by teams known variously as Plough Stots, Plough Jags, Plough Jacks, Plough Bullocks or Plough Witches. In North Lincolnshire, large teams of elaborately costumed mummers, often having some of the characters duplicated, paraded through the village streets, sometimes splitting up into smaller groups to enter houses and perform extracts from their traditional play. Photographs of teams from Scunthorpe, Burton-upon-Stather and elsewhere showed double gangs with two hobby horses. They were of the tourney type, made by hanging the wooden frame of a large sieve, with a small wooden horse's head and horsehair tail attached, around the performer's waist, However, in an unusual variation, the "rider" was then disguised by wearing a horse-cloth which covered his head and body to the knees, so that he appeared to be a horse riding a horse.[5]

Soul-caking or Souling

Some regional variants of the mummers play, performed around All Souls' Day in Cheshire, included a non-speaking character called the "Wild Horse", made from a horse's skull mounted on a short pole. The horse was played by a man, hidden under a cloth attached to the pole, who bent forward to rest the pole on the ground. He could usually snap the horse's jaws loudly to frighten onlookers.[5]

Winster horses

A possibly unique custom involving three hobby horses is known only from a photograph taken at Winster Hall, Derbyshire, in about 1870.[11] (The picture appears to have been taken in winter, as the climbing plants on the wall are leafless.) Eight or nine performers are involved; all (bar one?) have facial disguise.

Two men wearing military-looking jackets, buttoned to the neck, and white trousers stand astride small hobbyhorses of an apparently unique design: a cylindrical body, "about three inches diameter and two feet long" held between the rider's legs (supported at the front by a cord or narrow strap around the rider's neck), with a flat, curved wooden neck and a small, stylised head with snapping jaws (apart from their mouths, the horses look almost like simple rocking horses with the legs removed). The horsemen are faceless: their heads are wrapped in light-coloured cloth.

The performers are grouped around a mast horse with a shiny black head made from a skull (with ears attached and a large eyeball in its white-painted eye socket) set on a short pole. It is operated by a person who crouches under a blanket, attached to the back of the skull, that hides most of the pole. Behind this horse are two men who seem to be threatening it, one with a long stick like the handle of a brush or rake, the other with a besom broom (?slightly out of focus). The one with the stick wears white trousers, a dark jacket and a top hat; his face is disguised, perhaps by a mask or possibly wrapped in cloth. The other has a dark jacket and a flat-topped, ornate hat that looks like a smoking cap; he may be wearing a mask or perhaps a painted-on beard; his legs cannot be seen.

Next to them stands a rather matronly woman in a long apron; she has no facial disguise and is possibly a member of the household staff (a smartly dressed person, also possibly a servant is looking out of the house through a window in the door) rather than a performer.

Another character wears a rather voluminous, tattered, long, dark dress with pale sleeves (or a pale blouse under it) and a top hat. Busily brushing the ground with a besom broom, "she" is reminiscent of the character Besom Bet who appears in some mummers plays.

The last two characters are playing rough music on bladder fiddles. One has his face disguised with a simple (cloth?) mask and wears a peaked cap. He wars white trousers, and possibly a dark, sleeveless jerkin over a paler, long-sleeved garment. The other "musician" is more smartly dressed, in top hat, a long riding jacket, breeches, tight, knee-length socks or gaiters and polished shoes. He has what appears to be a false beard and bushy eyebrows.

The performance may have been arranged by Llewellyn Jewitt, who lived at the hall between 1868 and 1880. In 1931, Stanley Evans ("Folk Dancing in Derbyshire", Derbyshire Countryside, vol 1, no 2, April 1931, p29) suggested the performers may have been performing a mumming play. Cawte dismisses this suggestion: "if so it is a most unusual one, there is no sign of the combatants, the pair of horses is of an unusual design, and the mast horse seems to be the centre of attention."[12]

In his field notes, made in 1908, folklorist Cecil Sharp referred to a hobby horse "without a curtain" being connected with the morris dance at Winster; he also mentions a "Snap Dragon" made from "a real horse's head" (skull?) dug up for the purpose, but does not say whether it was associated with the morris. It seems he did not see them himself and his account published in 1924, long after his visit to Winster, is confusing. In 1966, Winster morris dancers stated that there had never been a hobby horse associated with their morris, but that there had been a separate horse ceremony involving a skull that was reburied each year. [13]

Related customs

Derby Tup

Originally created in the same way as a mast horse or hooden horse, the Derby Tup (ram) represented a male sheep. It took part in a dramatised version of the Derby Ram folksong, which was performed in northern Derbyshire and around Sheffield during the Christmas season by teams of boys. It is "killed" by a butcher and its "blood" is collected in a large bowl. In some versions it is brought back to life by a quack doctor, like a character in the Mummers play.


Basque country

Zaldiko, a Basque hobby horse in Lantz, Spain
A Basque hobby horse at Alava, Spain, in 1994

The Basque country on the borders of France and Spain has a strong dance tradition. Several dances are linked to seasonal festivals. The zamaltzain, a hobby horse of the "tourney" type, with a small wooden head and a short, lacy skirt, takes part in some dances and processions in Zuberoa (La Soule, the easternmost part of the Basque country) in places such as Maule, Urdiñarbe, Barkoxe, Altza, Altzürükü and Atarratze.[14] The "rider" wears elaborate costume and a koha, a tall, beribboned hat, which always has a mirror on the front.[14] "Zamaltzain" means muleteer or mule-keeper.[15] The dance in which he takes part is danced by two teams, one dressed in red, the other in black, and is said by some scholars (such as Eugène Goyhénèche of the University of Pau) to represent an attack on a village by the men of another.[14]

Carnaval de Lantz, Spain

A more rustic-looking horse of similar basic construction is part of the celebrations of the Carnaval de Lantz, Spain. Called the zaldiko, it forms an essential part of the carnival procession, together with the ziripot, a strange character in an enormous straw-stuffed costume.[14]

Parade of Giants and Big-heads, Pamplona, Spain
Pamplona's giants and big-heads, with the 6 zaldiko (far left)

Dressed in red trimmed with yellow, six tourney horses (xaldiko[14] or zaldiko) take part in the Comparsa de gigantes y cabezudos in Pamplona (Iruña) in Navarre (Nafarra). More realistic than the other Basque examples, they replicate the whole upper part of a horse's body from head to tail, with a skirt attached below. Each "rider" wears a pointed cap with a tassel and used to wield an inflated bladder on a stick; now, like the tricorned big-heads called Kilikis who parade with them, they carry a phallic verga made of foam-rubber which they use to belabour the onlookers.[16]


Several hobby-horse customs exist in the Languedoc area of southwest France, which is a stronghold for "totem" animals, with many towns and villages having their own particular creature; most appear at carnival time and/or their local patronal festivals, saint's days and other festivities.[17]

Le Poulain de Pézenas
The Poulain from Pézenas (visiting Steenvoorde, in northeast France, for the Festival of Giants in 2006)

At Pézenas there is a huge creature called Le Poulain or Lo Polin (Occitan for "the colt"), carried by nine men and led by another, accompanied by a band of musicians. The Poulain has a realistically carved wooden head, with a snapping jaws and an extending neck that can reach up to first-floor windows; money or other offerings put into its mouth tumble down inside its neck. Its semi-cylindrical body is covered with a dark blue cloth, now decorated with stars and the coat of arms of Pézenas. Below the frame it has a tricolor skirt.[18]

The Poulain carries two effigies on its back, one male, one female, called Estieinou and Estieinette (or Estieineta). Although the first written reference to the Poulain is from 1615, the creature is supposed to commemorate a visit to the town in 1226 by Louis VIII, during which the king's favourite mare fell ill. She had to be left behind in Pézenas while Louis continued with the Albigensian Crusade. On his return he was astonished to find that not only was his mare now fully recovered, but she had also given birth to a fine colt, which was duly presented to him, adorned with ribbons. In return he decreed that the town should construct a wooden colt to be used to celebrate all its public festivities (this legend was first recorded in 1701).[19]

Its early appearances were on the public feast days of Saint Blaise (3 February), Saint John the Baptist (24 June) and the Feast of the Assumption (15 Aug). As a symbol of power, it also appeared at times when the town's prévôt distributed bread to the poor (the last such was in 1911), as well as visits by royalty or other dignitaries. The Poulain was burned in 1789, during the French Revolution, because of its royal associations, but was revived in 1803. Since then it has appeared at Mardi Gras and other festive occasions. Its framework, once a weighty construction of chestnut, has been made of aluminium since 1989.[20]

Originally the Poulain had no riders; Estieinou and Estieinette (sometimes spelled Estiénon and Estiéneta in the French manner) are meant to recall another royal occasion when Louis XIII visited the town in 1622; the Maréchal de Bassompierre, following the King, was crossing the river Peyne on horseback. He saw a peasant-woman having difficulty making the crossing on foot and gallantly offered her a seat on his horse. Their merry arrival in the town caused great amusement and so the two effigies were made to remember the event.[21]

There have been smaller, junior Poulains in Pézenas, made by or for children; the Pézenas fadas also have a full-sized version of their own. There have also been similar creatures or imitations elsewhere, some of which still continue. There is a very lively Poulain at Saint-Thibéry and others are (or have been) known at Adissan, Alignan-du-Vent, Florensac, Montblanc and Vias (where it is linked to a local legend of a medieval famine and is known as lo Pouli de la Fabo – the colt of the bean). They have also been recorded at Agde, Caux, Montagnac, Castelnau, Valros and Nizas, all in the Languedoc. An outlier in the Ariège, at St Pierre de Soulan, was instigated by a former inhabitant of Pézenas.[22][17]

Lou chivalet or le chevalet

Hobby horses of the tourney type, with a frame suspended around the dancer's waist, can also appear at various festivities in the Languedoc. An illustration of the chivalet dance, and its traditional tune, and an old photograph of an animal of this type, are on show in the folk museum at Agde. It is particularly associated with Florensac, where it is called le chevalet, and is considered the town's totem.[23]

L'âne de Bessan
The Âne de Bessan

The Donkey or Ass of Bessan is another of the Langedoc's "totem" animals. Much smaller than the Poulain, it is made from a frame covered in cloth and decorated with crepe paper flowers and painted motifs. Under its skirt it is carried by four men, led by another who dresses in white, with a tricolor sash, and cracks a whip. The Âne dances from side to side and backwards and forwards to traditional tunes played nowadays on various instruments, although until the 1970s it was only the traditional hautbois (a type of oboe) and drums. Sometimes the beast bucks its hindquarters into the air, supported only by the leader and the first dancer, who twirls around; the other three stand ready to catch the frame as it descends. The Âne is brought out to open the feast of St Laurent, appearing first at 5pm on the Saturday closest to the saint's day, accompanied by firecrackers and bells, then again on the Sunday morning when it goes to a Mass to be blessed, before its final dance.[23]

There is also an Âne at Gignac.[17]

Le Cheval-Bayard de Clermont-l'Hérault was revived in 1988, after more than a century and a half. The town's original cheval-bayard was burned in 1815; known as the Bayard (baiard in Occitan), meaning a bay horse, its origins have been traced back to the 9th century.[23]

Other "totem" animals of the Hérault

Perhaps the best-known is the Chameau (Camel) of Béziers, which dates from 1613, two years earlier than the Poulain of Pézenas. There is a large and impressive Boeuf (Bull) at Mèze, with a huge mouth; it is said to date back to at least 1229. Lo Picart, at Saint-Jean-de-Fos, is a ferocious ram; it has existed since at least 1683. Montagnac has a goat. Sometimes the choice of animal is based on a play on words: Loupian has, unsurprisingly, a wolf (Loup). (One of the most recent, and possibly the most bizarre, "totems" is Le Porquet of Pinet, a caterpillar, created in the early 1970s.)[17]


Láir Bhán

The teams of Irish mummers known as Wrenboys who perform on Saint Stephen's Day (26 December) in pubs and private houses have been known to include a white hobby horse (Láir Bhán – c.f. Laare Vane, above) of the tourney type, and this has survived into the present century, at Dunquin in County Kerry for example.[24] At Ballycotton, in Co. Cork, a Láir bhán led a procession of horn-blowing youths at Halloween who collected money "in the name of Muck Olla" (a legendary giant boar). [5]

The Lajkonik


A painting of the Lajkonik celebrations from 1818

The city of Krakow has a hobby-horse called the Lajkonik which traditionally appears on the first Thursday after the religious feast of Corpus Christi and parades through the streets, collecting money, accompanied by musicians and costumed followers, some in traditional Polish costume, others in oriental dress, who carry horsetail insignia. The colourful costume of the Lajkonik represents a bearded Tatar warrior, who carries a golden mace and is mounted on a white horse. To be touched by the mace is said to bring good luck. The custom is said to have been carried on for 700 years, and various stories are told to explain its origins. The hobby horse has become an unofficial symbol of Krakow, and versions often appear as tourist attraction in the Market Square.[25]

The mulassa (mule) of Tarragona, Spain


Carnaval de Lantz
See: Basque country (above)
Fiesta de Santa Tecla, Tarragona

The Santa Tecla Festival takes place at Tarragona from 15–24 September and includes the saint's day, 23 September.[26] A number of animals, real and mythical, are impersonated in the parades that form a major part of the festivities. Among them is a larger-than-life Mulassa (mule) carried by two dancers who are hidden under its skirts, apart from their legs.

The other creatures that take part are the àliga (eagle), bou (bull), cucafera (coco, a mythical monster), drac de Sant Roc (dragon of Saint Roch), lleó (lion), and víbria (a female wyvern with prominent breasts). Several of these have fireworks attached to their extremities, or are showered with sparks by their attendants, and are a spectacular sight.

Parade of Giants and Big-heads, Pamplona
See: Basque country (above)



Kuda Kepang, Kuda Lumping or Jaran Kepang
Modern Kuda Lumping (or Jaran Kepang) procession in Yogyakarta (2008)

Kuda Kepang (woven bamboo horses, also known as Kuda Lumping or Jaran Kepang) originate in the state of Johor and performances are often given at weddings by Malayan men of Javanese origin in Singapore and elsewhere. Led by a Danyang, a typical troupe today comprises 9 horsemen, 2 medicine men, 5 gamelan musicians and 9–15 'guardians'.[27]

Modern performances re-enact the stories of the nine Muslim evangelists who waged battles to bring Islam to Java, but nowadays they are often kept brief and intended simply for entertainment; they may even be performed by women.[27] The gamelan percussion orchestra is made up of 2 drums, a hanging gong, two knobbed gongs on a wooden frame, and 5 tubular bamboo chimes called angklung.[28]

Details of the fuller, more elaborate performances, however, include states of shamanistic trance-like possession, and the custom may have originally been a form of totemic worship.[29]

Photographs from the early 20th century, in the collection of Amsterdam's Tropenmuseum (Museum of the Tropics), show another ritual dance, the Reog Ponogoro, involving a huge tiger mask and costume (Singa Barong), accompanied by Jatil riding woven bamboo hobbyhorses who perform the Jaran Kepang dance.


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."

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 LingardThe History of England, (1819), vol. iv. chap. ii. p. 116.

The 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.

Other meanings

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 to him and Trim - who gets caught up in Toby's enthusiasm - to begin acting out military actions. Illustration by George Cruikshank.

From the term "hobby horse" 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.[30]

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". [31]

The artistic movement, Dada, is possibly named after a French child's word for hobby horse.[32]


  1. ^ a b c Cawte, EC, Ritual Animal Disguise, pp8–9, London, DS Brewer for the Folklore Society (1978)
  2. ^ Cawte, EC, Ritual Animal Disguise, p187, London, DS Brewer for the Folklore Society (1978)
  3. ^ Cawte, EC, Ritual Animal Disguise, p157–158, London, DS Brewer for the Folklore Society (1978)
  4. ^ Cawte, EC, Ritual Animal Disguise, p169, London, DS Brewer for the Folklore Society (1978)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Hole, Christina (1978). A Dictionary of British Folk Customs, pp199–201, Paladin Granada, ISBN 0-586-08293-X
  6. ^ Alford, Violet (1952). Introduction to English Folklore, p57, Bell (no ISBN)
  7. ^ Douglas, Mona (ed. Stephen Miller), Manx Folk-Song, Folk Dance, Folklore: Collected Writings (pp5, 10, 15–16), Chiollagh Books, Onchan, Isle of Mann, 1994, ISBN 1898613060 (online version [1])
  8. ^ SRFN Miscellany: Luck-visiting in the Old South Riding
  9. ^ Cawte, EC, Ritual Animal Disguise, p123, London, DS Brewer for the Folklore Society (1978)
  10. ^ Cawte, EC, Ritual Animal Disguise, p123, London, DS Brewer for the Folklore Society (1978)
  11. ^ Cawte, EC, Ritual Animal Disguise, p122, London, DS Brewer for the Folklore Society (1978)
  12. ^ Cawte, EC, Ritual Animal Disguise, p121, London, DS Brewer for the Folklore Society (1978)
  13. ^ Cawte, EC, Ritual Animal Disguise, pp120–123, London, DS Brewer for the Folklore Society (1978)
  14. ^ a b c d e Truffaut, Thierry, La Danse Basque, Lauburu, Bidart, 1981
  15. ^ Online Basque dictionary
  16. ^ Spanish Wikipedia
  17. ^ a b c d French Wikipédia: Animaux totémiques de l'Hérault
  18. ^ Bastian, Jean-Marie, "Le Poulain, Pézenas", pp9–10 & 22, Cercle de Collectionneurs de Pézenas, May 2009
  19. ^ Bastian, Jean-Marie, "Le Poulain, Pézenas", pp2–4, Cercle de Collectionneurs de Pézenas, May 2009
  20. ^ Bastian, Jean-Marie, "Le Poulain, Pézenas", pp6–8, Cercle de Collectionneurs de Pézenas, May 2009
  21. ^ Bastian, Jean-Marie, "Le Poulain, Pézenas", pp2-3, Cercle de Collectionneurs de Pézenas, May 2009
  22. ^ Bastian, Jean-Marie, "Le Poulain, Pézenas", p32, Cercle de Collectionneurs de Pézenas, May 2009
  23. ^ a b c Bessan in French Wikipédia
  24. ^ Dreoilín Dhún Chaoin / Dunquin Wren 2006
  25. ^ Lajkonik
  26. ^ Offical Santa Tecla webside (in Catalan)
  27. ^ a b Singapore Kopitam blog: Huda Kepang Description of performances, with photographs and video links
  28. ^ Musical Malaysia
  29. ^ Dance Malaysia
  30. ^ "hobby," The Oxford English Dictionary 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2010-06-26. [2]
  31. ^ David V. Herlihy, Bicycle, Yale University Press, 2004; pp. 31-38.
  32. ^ Marc Dachy, Dada & les dadaïsmes, Paris, Gallimard, Folio Essais, n° 257, 1994.

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  • hobby-horse — hobby horses also hobbyhorse N COUNT You describe a subject or idea as your hobby horse if you have strong feelings on it and like talking about it whenever you have the opportunity. Honesty is a favourite hobby horse for Courau …   English dictionary

  • hobby horse — ► NOUN 1) a child s toy consisting of a stick with a model of a horse s head at one end. 2) a rocking horse. 3) a person s favourite topic of conversation …   English terms dictionary

  • hobby horse — hobby ,horse noun count 1. ) a toy with a wooden horse s head on a long stick that a child can pretend to ride 2. ) a subject that someone has strong opinions about and often talks about, especially in a way that annoys other people …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • Hobby-horse — (engl., spr. hóbbĭ hors), Steckenpferd, besonders das im englischen Maispiel (s. Morris dance) vorkommende …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • hobby horse — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms hobby horse : singular hobby horse plural hobby horses 1) a toy with a wooden horse s head on a long stick that a child can pretend to ride 2) a subject that someone has strong opinions about and often talks… …   English dictionary

  • hobby horse — noun a) The Irish hobby, an extinct breed of horse. Dont ask him about global warming: its his favourite hobby horse, youll never get away. b) A childs toy consisting of a (usually wooden or cloth) horse mounted on a stick …   Wiktionary

  • hobby-horse —    obsolete    a prostitute    Literally, an article in Morris dancing which became a children s toy. Shakespeare gives us another vulgar pun on hobby, a wanton, and on the usual equine imagery:     My wife s a hobby horse. {The Winter s Tale) …   How not to say what you mean: A dictionary of euphemisms

  • Hobby horse (toy) — William Wallace Denslow s illustrations for a variant of Ride a cock horse, from a 1901 edition of Mother Goose. This article is about the children s toy; for other uses, see Hobby horse (disambiguation). A hobby horse …   Wikipedia

  • Hobby horse (disambiguation) — A hobby horse (or hobbyhorse) can be several things:* hobby ; a type of horse ridden in the Middle Ages by hobelars *A toy horse, consisting of a model of a horse s head, usually wooden, attached to a stick. This is often used by children to… …   Wikipedia

  • hobby-horse — n. 1 a child s toy consisting of a stick with a horse s head. 2 a preoccupation; a favourite topic of conversation. 3 a model of a horse, esp. of wicker, used in morris dancing etc. 4 a rocking horse. 5 a horse on a merry go round …   Useful english dictionary

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