Toys have always served as a means of helping children learn adult skills in a fun, kid-friendly way, and the rocking horse is no exception. For centuries, horses were a vital part of life, crucial to transportation, hunting and sport. The earliest rocking horses served as a safe and easy way for kids to pick up basic riding skills, without the danger associated with falling off or being thrown off a real horse [source: Powerhouse Museum]. Sixteenth century models were homemade and built similar to cradles. It wasn't until the 18th century that the rocking horse took on its modern form, with carved wooden legs stretched over long, curved bows [source: Strong National Museum of Play]. By the mid- to late-19th century, mass production made the rocking horse more accessible to middle class families, and the toy enjoyed a golden age of popularity through the early 20th century.
In 1880, toy makers modified the classic bow design, adding a set of crossbars perpendicular to the bows. This so-called "safety rocking horse" made it more difficult for kids to tip the toy and reduced both injuries and damage to walls and furniture.