TLC brings Black Beauty back to life

Dr Charlie Clark’s long career as a medical practitioner was devoted to caring for his patients in the west of Scotland.

Now retired, Charlie has turned his attention to a more equine patient – to be precise, a wooden rocking horse.
Horse very start

Charlie is a recent graduate of the Chippendale International School of Furniture in East Lothian, learning woodworking skills to give him a new interest in retirement.

A father of four, Charlie bought the rocking horse in the 1980s. Over the years, the horse was literally “loved to bits” by his children.

Then, after they had grown up, the rocking horse, battered and missing its head, was consigned to his garage where it remained for several years, decaying still further.

Now, having graduated as a skilled woodworker, Charlie has ridden to the rescue, restoring this rare example of a “flying horse” back to its former glory.

The pine horse is unusual in having its legs at full stretch. Most conventional rocking horses have their legs set more vertically.

The restoration process started with Charlie carefully scraping away all the old paintwork. Then all its cracks were filled in with non-shrink epoxy wood filler.
Horse head complete

Reconstructive surgery was then required to its head. Its jaw needed to be reattached and one ear was missing. Charlie fashioned a new ear from lime wood.

With structural support from threaded bolts, the head was then reattached to the horse’s body using thixotropic polyurethane glue.
As the glue set, the head was held in place with bicycle inner tubes.

The rocking horse was then treated to eight coats of gesso – a mixture of chalk and glue, then sanded and polished off. This was something that Charlie had also learned at the Chippendale, as it’s a process used in gilding – one of the subjects on the curriculum.

Brown paint was then applied, then further coats of black paint, turning the rocking horse into a modern Black Beauty, complete with white socks and a white flash on its forehead.

The mane, tail, saddle and reins were supplied by a specialist supplier, The Rocking Horse Shop, in the north of England. (Yes, such specialist outlets do still exist!)

Jane Cook, managing director of The Rocking Horse Shop, believes that Charlie’s horse may have been made by the celebrated maker, FH Ayres – a manufacturer that is still revered for its craftsmanship. The company started off in London in 1810 and continued in business until well into the 20th century.
Horse Charlie Isabelle

Having been loved to bits by his children, the end result is a beautiful rocking horse that can now be enjoyed by Dr Charlie’s grandchildren.

And with new rocking horses selling for over £2,000, it’s also a good example of how a little bit of woodworking TLC can bring the seemingly worthless back to life.

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