Essential Wessex: Hobby Horses

Hobby Horses are not unique to Wessex, or even Britain, but there are some notable hobby horse festivals here. A hobby horse is a costumed character representing a horse, that takes part in processions and festivals, usually around May Day.

The Minehead ‘Obby ‘Oss dates back to at least 1830. It features three rival horses, built around a boat-shaped wooden frame. In nearby Dunster, there was a similar festival in the past, and the two towns’ horses would sometimes visit each other, but this tradition sadly seems to have died out.

In Combe Martin, Devon an annual tradition called the Hunting of the Earl of Rone sees a hobby horse and fool hunting the titular Earl. It was revived in 1974, having previously been banned in 1837. The origins of the festival are unknown, though it is believed locally to refer to the Earl of Tyrone, who fled Ireland in 1607.

Unlike the other two festivals, which take place in May, the Banbury Folk Festival previously took place in October. The last one was in 2022, and no festival has been announced yet for 2024, but it featured a hobby horse procession.

Small personal horses, known as tourney horses, are also a feature of Morris dancing.

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