Hello and thank you for visiting us. My name is Richard Ayling and in 1985 I started making and selling some very simple rocking horses from my parents garage in the town of Hailsham, East Sussex. The adventure began as Wooden Horse Stables and would continue in that guise until 2001. It was a successful enterprise and quickly outgrew the confines of the garage (although not on the scale of Apple inc.). On their joint retirements, I was able to involve my father who was an art teacher and my mother who could sew for Britain into the business. In 1987 we took the decision to relocate and move to Carmarthenshire in South Wales to expand the business in a beautiful rural location.
From 1985 until around 1993, we developed several ranges of rocking horse from simple flat pack production horses to reproductions of the Victorian classic makers such as F.H. Ayres and the Lines brothers. We never felt though that we had made our mark with a horse that was definitively ours and so began the process of developing prototypes for new designs.
Then the Fairs came calling! During 1988 We received a tentative enquiry from an American Gentleman asking if we could carve an American Carousel horse. I said 'yes' but have to confess I had never actually seen one and just assumed they were like those that adorned the old English carousels. As you can see from the this picture showing a couple of Muller copies in priming paint colours, I had to move my mindset to a very different level of skill and understanding.
Call it the power of youth or being too young to fully appreciate the enormity of the task being undertaken, but somehow we pulled it off and there started one of the greatest adventures of my life. More and more work followed and we became fully immersed in the world of the American carousel, all be it from across a pretty big ocean. Our work was exported to collectors worldwide and ten of them are still galloping on a private carousel in Philadelphia.
The exploration of themes in the carvings was immense and has driven our work since. We did other animals too; life size stags and deer even a bulldog not much smaller than her owner. For the ten year period making these amazing carousel horses and animals, we learned the methods of the old masters and applied new techniques in our making. But with the advent of the digital age the thrill of these majestic beasts was starting to be lost in a sea of cheap plastic toys and the burgeoning computer games industry.
Despite the slow down in the world of carousel horse making we were able to transfer the huge range of skills we had learnt and apply them to our rocking horse carving for the home market. At last we were able to design and build a horse that was uniquely ours. We completely overhauled the method of construction that allowed us to carve more shape into a horse. Gone were the flat boxes and flat legs of the conventional rocking horse unchanged since the Victorian times. The over exaggerated arched neck went too and we could feel we were well on our way with a new type of rocking horse.
With our new design called the Cwrt Henry Collection came a new approach to the traditional leather work found on horses to date. Why should a horse have its saddle and tack nailed on with fancy headed nails? No, we wanted to offer something different and increase the play value of our horses. So we set about the task of employing our own leather workers and were the first to routinely create a totally removable saddle and harness set for each horse. They were not lavish compared to today's standards but what an advance in design. Others have followed but we did it first!
Both my parents have left for that happy place in the clouds now, but work goes on. I have renamed the business to better reflect where I work from. Paul Jenkinson one of the longest associated craftsmen within our family effort is still working away with us on a regular basis. We now work from the old colliery buildings at Abernant, the site of a former deep coal mine near Swansea. I love its history as a site of hard unrelenting toil and it seems fitting our work which is built on the skill of the hand and eye should be housed in buildings where such effort was the norm. It is industrial but rural and behind the doors, much like the busy workshops of the 1920s carousel makers, the sound of mallet on gouge is still heard.
© 2021. Caballus of Abernant