AskDefine | Define hobbyhorse

Dictionary Definition



1 a topic to which one constantly reverts; "don't get him started on his hobbyhorse"
2 a child's plaything consisting of an imitation horse mounted on rockers; the child straddles it and pretends to ride [syn: hobby, rocking horse]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. alternative spelling of hobby horse

Extensive Definition

A hobby horse (or hobby-horse) is a child's toy horse, particularly popular during the days before cars. Just as children today imitate adults driving cars, so, in former times, children played at riding a wooden hobby-horse made of a straight stick with a small horse's head (of wood or stuffed fabric), and perhaps reins, attached to one end. The bottom end of the stick sometimes had a small wheel or wheels attached. This toy was also sometimes known as a cock horse (as in the nursery rhyme Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross).
A hobby horse is not always a riding-stick like the child's toy; larger hobby-horses feature in some traditional seasonal customs (such as Mummers Plays and the Morris dance in the United Kingdom), and they are constructed in several different ways.

Traditional seasonal customs

May Day hobby horses

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 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.
Children sometimes make "Colt" 'Osses and hold their own May Day parades.
At Minehead in Somerset there are also two rival hobby horses, the 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) 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 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

Morris 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)
Some traditional English Morris dance sides (teams) have hobby horses associated with them.

Origin of term

Hobby (Hob"by Hob"by*horse`) n. [OE. hobin a nag, OF. hobin hobby; cf. hober to stir, move; prob. of German or Scand. origin; cf. Dan. hoppe a mare, dial. Sw. hoppa; perh. akin to E. hop to jump.]
"1. A strong, active horse, of a middle size, said to have been originally from Ireland; an ambling nag." (Dr. Samuel Johnson, Dictionary of the English Language, 1755).
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 Lingard: The 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.
A major pastime of Henry VIII (1491–1547) was that of horse racing. In those days, horses were known as hobbies. The term "hobby" then became to be associated with any pastime.

Other meanings

From "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.
A further use of the term hobby-horse is in reference to the draisine or dandy-horse invented by Baron Karl von Drais, the direct forerunner of the bicycle.
The artistic movement, Dada, is named after a French child's word for hobby-horse.

See also

hobbyhorse in Danish: Kæphest
hobbyhorse in German: Steckenpferd
hobbyhorse in Dutch: Stokpaard
hobbyhorse in Norwegian: Kjepphest
hobbyhorse in Portuguese: Cavalinho-de-pau
hobbyhorse in Finnish: Keppihevonen

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

agate, avocation, ball, baseball bat, bat, battledore, bauble, blocks, by-line, checkerboard, chessboard, club, cockhorse, cricket bat, cue, doll, doll carriage, gewgaw, gimcrack, golf club, hobby, jack-in-the-box, jacks, jackstones, jackstraws, kickshaw, knickknack, marble, marionette, mig, paper doll, pastime, pick-up sticks, pinwheel, plaything, puppet, racket, rag doll, rocking horse, side interest, sideline, spare-time activity, sport, steelie, taw, teetotum, top, toy, toy soldier, trinket, whim-wham
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