As a kid, magic flying was one of my favourite fantasies. I read a lot of E.Nesbit books including The Phoenix and the Carpet. I loved to imagine a bird’s eye view and cool Peter Pan air rushing past my ears. It was an utterly free, yet totally safe world. A benevolent talisman carpet, genie, winged horse or unicorn (with unlimited powers and no will of its own) was always along for the ride.
Real life was different. There were adventures, but flying through the air was normally part of an accident. Animals had wills of their own.
My sister Jo had access to a very wilful pony called Major and she was allowed to take him out and ride him cross-country. She absolutely loved it and would go out to experience a rush of freedom and power. Without the magic protector though. Major had a nasty habit of bolting (running off out of control at break neck speed), so riding him must have been risky. It’s crazy to think of in these coddled days.
In about the same childhood era, Pedigree had on offer a horse toy with realistic proportions called the Dapple Grey.
The level of detail is surprising compared to the stylised Sindy doll it belonged to: defined muscles and even veins and ribs showing underneath its ‘skin’.
If you couldn’t afford to buy a doll’s riding outfit, you could knit one.
A little later in 1992 Mattel issued Barbie’s Rosebud. Fairly realistic with a dash of long lashed fantasy. I like her – very pretty and more animated than Sindy’s horse. Although Dapple Grey has beautiful presence.
This 1998 design from Mattel had the best intentions of realism but fell slightly short with this stiff legged but captivating robotic result. It’s fun to play with: you hold the body and touch the hoofs to the floor. Two hoofs move forward by themselves and it feels like it’s walking. Hence the name Walking Beauty. The best thing about this model is that it neighs hysterically when you press its neck. It also has a foal called Kelly’s Pony.
Concurrently, Hasbro was riding high on the success of My Little Pony and into the second generation issue aka G2. It’s a recognisable pony shape but nuzzles for a full oxytocin release and appeals directly to the inner child.
At the time of their release, I really disliked My Little Pony – it just seemed like 10 teaspoons of sugar in a cup. But they’ve really grown on me. I recently saw a lame copy in a shop and noticed how far the design fell short. Take a look below – the face looks hard and emotionless. It takes time and skill to create appeal and cuteness. The copy cats put together individual ponyish parts (long curly hair, long eyelashes, cartoon form) but that wasn’t enough. The Hasbro models succeed on every level. They feel nice too. When you hold the little yellow Princess Celestia pony, it fits perfectly in your hand, like a pebble or a stone step shaped under thousands of footsteps. Smooth and pleasing.
If you have a sweet tooth you might enjoy this 2010 sugar candy treat from Mattel. It’s completely transparent and may as well be made from pure sugar.
Here is a craftsman in China, forming a sugar horse by hand.
Canter forward and today we have Monster High Fright Mares – empirically teenage in temperament and character, inspired by monster movies, sci-fi horror and thriller fiction. Perhaps the safer environment of children today leads to a need for wilder, more ‘dangerous’ toys? Love the packaging and copy writing “Bay Tidechaser: I unlive for the ocean and wind in my mane and the waves on my hoofs. I mean, is there anything better than a gallop on the beach at dawn?”
Ride, ride like the wind!
Credit to Jo Sinclair for the memories and horse riding video link. Nature writing from Jo at her blog Murmuration.
Thanks for reading. Comment here about your favourite horse, pony or unicorn models. Mego deserves a mention but I had to end the post somewhere…