| |

Vintage Rocking Horse Makeover

A Vintage Rocking Horse Restoration for Christmas

This vintage rocking horse makeover was a labor 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 lookout for vintage toys like sleighs, wagons, and my favorite wooden rocking horses. They are beautiful under the Christmas tree and really add nostalgia to 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 else’s 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 a lot 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. It looked like 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 it’s so cute.

A vintage rocking horse in need of a makeover it has grey blotchy paint and very dirty wool mane.

Removing the Original Mane and Tail

My main and tail were attached using glue and large staples, I carefully pried 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.
  • Fusion Tough Coat in Matte
  • 2 – dollar store cotton thread mop heads
  • Cut tacks (shoe tacks)
  • sponge brushes and rags
A collage of the supplies used on a Vintage Rocking Horse Makeover including the paint stripper a cotton mop head and a shoe tack.

Rocking Horse Makeover Video

Here is a step-by-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 you 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 dismantled pieces of a vintage rocking horse being repaired. You can see a very bad paint job that needs fixing.

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 it’s 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 remove 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 it’s quicker if you wipe the wood down first.

Sanding the vintage horse was pretty straightforward 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. Sanding is my favorite part of any wood makeover project love the sanding part the most, it’s like opening a present to see what’s hidden inside.

Stripped and sanded pieces of a vintage rocking horse before its reassembled and restained.

The bottom of the horse rockers was a problem, 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 white stain and really loved the finish. Until I went to put it together.

The finish was too monochromatic, and 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 whitewash. I let the pieces all dry, assembled the horse, and found these grey kinds 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 colors.

The picture shows the back end of the vintage rocking horse where you can see the two colours of stain used to refinish it.

If I had a horse to do again I would whitewash most of the horse, and use a light stain or clear coat on 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 the 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 it 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 it 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 sewed 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 measure from the floor to the seat of my horse at 15 inches, double 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 crisscrossed two of the bundles in the middle and sewed them together with a zig-zag stitch. Then repeat with the other two.

As the center of the horse’s tail gets quite thick I stitched the last two bundles and crisscrossed them again but sewed the final stitches by hand with a large needle.

Thankfully I had quite a bit of leftover 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 horse’s head.

The little horse is now restored!!!

A vintage rocking horse with new vinyl ears, a new cotton rope mane and stained in white and cream.

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 bell 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.

A refinish vintage rocking horse makeover done in white and cream stain.  The horse has a long cotton rope mane with bits of sparkly greenery in it.  The horse is decorated with a sleigh bells in a wreath around the neck.

Decorating the Mane

To decorate the mane add whatever greenery and pinecones you like. Leave the stems a bit longer and wrap the ends with the mane cotton.

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.

Refinished Vintage Toy for Christmas

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.

A farmhouse Christmas tree collage of four images. Including a large farmhouse decorated Christmas tree and red cardinals, a white vintage horse, and little red barn ornaments.

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 the family for separate gatherings.


  1. A lot of work but the results are just beautiful, Leanna! I like the neutral white wash finish and the lovely mop head mane. I have a pine rocking chair in my shed without a mane. You’ve inspired me to give it a similar makeover for my grandkids. Wishing you and yours a beautiful holiday season!

    1. Well hello my friend!!!!! Its so good to hear from you. Hope all is well and Merry Christmas xo Leanna

  2. Oh, she looks lovely, Leanna, and I love the way you wove the Christmas greenery and little pine cones into her mane. It gives her a wild horse, fairy tale vibe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.