A Vintage Rocking Horse Restoration for Christmas
This vintage rocking horse makeover was a labour of love, and I am thrilled with the outcome. This particular rocking horse is becoming part of my vintage toy Christmas collection. Vintage toys are amazing for Christmas decorating, I am always on the look out for vintage toys like sleighs, wagons and my favorite wooden rocking horses. They are beautiful under the Christmas tree and really add a nostalgia to our Christmas decor.
Of course this little wooden rocking horse also makes a wonderful gift for a little one in your life. I am certain my horse will come out to entertain any young guests we happen to have as well.
The Before Story
I saw this particular horse at a local antique dealer but it was more than my budget allowed. God smiled on me I think because a year or so later I saw the same horse at a garage sale in someone elses hand. I stood back not so patiently waiting and the lady put it down. I instantly grabbed it and bought it for $15. The antique dealer had closed down and the garage sale vendor sold me this very sad looking little wooden rocking horse. At the time I knew she was going to be alot of work, and worth every enjoyable minute it took to give the old fashioned rocking horse an update.
The old rocking horse was very dirty, and had received a really bad paint job. I think maybe a child had been allowed to paint it for fun, I wasn’t sure, but the little rocking horse was very solid and had all its pieces. I wasn’t sure how I would refinish the vintage horse, but began by giving it a good wash.
I gave the horse a good wash using dish soap, warm water and several rags. The horse had lots of cobwebs on the underside so I have no idea how long it had been unused. This is how it looked after it was washed. I think its so cute.
Removing the Original Mane and Tail
My main and tail were attached using glue and large staples, I carefully pryed both the staples and the ticking away from the wood horse and set them aside to measure later.
Removing the Ears
My horse came with two very damaged vinyl ears. I carefully removed the nails with a small hammer and then set them aside to use as a template. I will make and reattach new ones later on.
Supplies To Restore an Old Wooden Rocking Horse
I used the following supplies on my horse.
- D Super Remover ( I like Citristrip as well but its not available in Canada)
- Mineral Spirits
- 80 and 120 grit sandpaper
- Saman water based whitewash stain.
- Fushion Tough Coat in Matte
- 2 – dollar store cotton thread mop heads
- Cut tacks (shoe tacks)
- sponge brushes and rags
Rocking Horse Makeover Video
Here is a step how to video on how I refinished this old rocking horse. It begins with me investigating what the little rocking horse was originally, until its refinished and decorated for Christmas.
If your needing specific how tos, check out the video.
Stripping a Vintage Wood Rocking Horse
I began by dismantling the wooden rocking horse, and taking a couple of pictures to guide myself when putting it back together. The paint job was pretty awful with three different coats of paint.
The rocking horse makeover required two coats of paint stripper to remove the majority of the paint layers, but I was thrilled to find out it was solid light coloured wood. The solid wood makes me think its from the 1970s.
When I saw the wood grain I knew I was going to stain it to keep the grain. Which meant I needed to sand it.
Sanding the Wood Rocking Horse
Before you begin sanding the rocking horse give all your pieces a good scrub with mineral spirits and a clean rag. The mineral spirits removes the residue chemical coating left over from the stripping. In the video I talk about how I didn’t have any mineral spirits and worked around it, but its quicker if you wipe the wood down first.
Sanding the vintage horse was pretty straight forward and only took a couple of hours. I sanded it first with 80 grit and then 120 grit. Then finished it by hand in the tight areas around the neck. I love the sanding part the most, its like opening a present to see whats hidden inside.
I experienced a problem with the bottom of the horse rockers, they were caked with built up ground in dirt and I was afraid to sand it too much and cause it to have a bumpy rocking. I sanded the bottom of the rungs by hand making sure it stayed smooth. I wasn’t able to remove all the greyish stained areas. They were on the bottom so I decided to continue with the staining idea.
Staining the Vintage Rocking Horse
Because of the beautiful light wood I decided to use Samana white wash stain and one inch sponge brushes on the rocking horse. I stained every surface with two coats of the white stain and really loved the finish. Until I went to put it together.
The finish was too monocramatic, the horse didn’t stand out from the rockers enough, so I made a mistake and tried staining the seat and rockers with a darker stain over the white wash. I let the pieces all dry, assembled the horse and found these grey kind of splotches on the darker portion.
Grabbing some sandpaper I hand sanded the brown sections for about half an hour until the blotches disappeared and I got a soft brown finish. Then I used Fusion Tough Coat in matt on all the surfaces to protect it. Here is a plain image so you can see the difference in the colours.
If I had a horse to do again I would white wash most of the horse, and use a light stain or clear coat on the the seat, rockers and cross pieces.
Restoring the Rocking Horse Mane
Checking out the original mane it was made using wool and ticking. The wool mane makes me think horse is handmade. To replace the mane, I looked at some ideas online and decided on using two dollar store cotton mop heads to replace the wool.
I wasn’t able to find ticking anywhere close by so I substituted with blanket binding, and sewed it into a narrow strip. If you can find ticking I recommend using it instead. I used the original mane as the guide to measure the length I needed for the new binding.
Our dollar store mop heads had a green band sewn into them that I removed by picking out the stitches. Next Hubs took a large set of clippers and cut the two green plastic tubes on the side releasing the long single cotton cord. I rolled the cord up into a ball first and set aside.
To put the mane together I started by cutting cutting two long cords 34 inches long. Then I sewed the end of each cord to the short end of my binding. I used my sewing machine, if you don’t have one you can do it with a needle and thread although it would be time consuming.
For the remaining cords I cut each one into 24″ lengths until I had used up the first mop head. To attach them to the binding I folded each one in half and taking two at a time I sew the center to my minding using a zig zag stitch. One layer of cording took up the entire mop head of cotton. To ensure I had enough cotton left for the tail, I set the mane aside and finished the tail before finishing the mane.
To make the tail I measured from the floor to the seat of my horse 15 inches, doubled the length to 30 inches as they will be folded. Then I cut 15 pieces of the cotton cording creating four bundles of 4 cords each.
Once again found the center of each cord but instead of sewing them to a binding I used a zig zag stitch to attach the four cords to one another. I ended up with four bundles. Once I had the four bundles done, I criss crossed two of the bundles in the middle and sewed them together with a zig zag stitch. Then repeated with the other two.
As the center of the horses tail gets quite thick I stitched the last two bundles criss crossed them again but sewed the final stitches by hand with a large needle.
Thankfully I had quite a bit of left over cotton from the second mop head so I added them to the mane leaving about half an inch between each cord as a second layer.
Attaching the Mane and Tail
For this I used cut tacks. You want to use these tacks if you can as they are very strong and very sharp. The sharpness prevents the nails from cracking the wood, and because the wood is old that is always a concern.
Fit the tail and mane where the originals were on your horse. Make sure to place the very long cotton ropes at the top of your mane, then attach both the tail and main using glue and tacks.
Unravel the long bits of cotton roping and then braid it. Hot glue the braided edge along both sides of your mane.
Making the Rocking Horse’s Ears
Find some inexpensive leather, I used an old purse I found at the thrift store. Using the original ears as a template I cut out two new ears. Punched two holes in each ear where the old holes were. Then I took the same tacks and hammered them into the horses head.
The little horse is now restored!!!
Decorating a Vintage Rocking Horse for Christmas
For this special horse I wanted to give it some sleigh bells. I used dollar store sleigh bells, decorative wire and very thin florists wire.
Make the Sleigh Bell Wreath
Using dollar store covered wire with white beads I cut a 3 foot length. Poked the wire through each of the sleigh bells rings. Then I placed the three bells with one in the center, and the other two a palm width away.
Fold the covered wire over and then twist it on each side of the sleigh bells to hold them in place.
Next I wired some green bells and greenery onto the main sleigh bell wire making sure all the small wire was twisted behind the bells.
Decorating the Mane
I wish you could see the sparkles on this little horse from the greenery, its so pretty, but I am unable to get the sparkle to show on video. To add it to the horse I just cut it in small lengths, wrapped the cotton cord around each one twice, making sure the cut end was hidden inside the mane.
Other Vintage Toy Makeovers
Using vintage items for Christmas is a wonderful way to add nostalgia to Christmas, especially if the vintage pieces come from within the family or have a childhood memory attached to them. Here are some other ideas for vintage toy Christmas decor including a second horse makeover.
A Vintage Riding Horse Makeover
This particular little riding horse makeover project has been snuggled under one of our Christmas trees for several years now. He has a simple dapple grey paint makeover.
Decorating a Christmas Tree in Farmhouse Black and White Plaid
This farmhouse Christmas tree features an assortment of farmhouse ornaments, a large church and barn focal point and of course the vintage horse tricycle makeover. I also invested in some nice farmhouse baskets to group gifts by family for seperate gatherings.