THE hobby horse has a magic all of its own - as preposterous as it is magical, this curious creature belongs among the cavalcade of other strange beasts that roam the English countryside.
It's therefore fitting that the hobby horse has its own annual festival. Usually the first weekend in July, the hobby horse festival coincides with Town Mayor's Sunday in Banbury - a celebration by the mayor which draws in the whole community. Over the weekend hobby horses can be seen processing, dancing and racing in this Oxfordshire town. There are two basic types: the basic horse-on-a-stick model beloved by children and the hoop-round-the-hip version often used by morris teams and street entertainers.
Banbury seems a logical location for the hobby horse festival with its white lady riding a cock horse legend. The story and its famous rhyme may refer to Queen Elizabeth I riding to Banbury or be a general reference to any May Queen riding a horse.
"Ride a cock horse to
To see a fine lady
upon a white horse,
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
She shall have music
where-ever she goes"
But its link with horses means a good excuse to host the hobby horse festival and races. The races themselves are very sedate affairs - not frantic 10 furlong dashes! Large dice are thrown by the children to see how many squares (painted on the grass) they can move - the winner being the first over the finishing line.
The real event, however, is the parade of hobby horses where the whole range of hobby horses can be seen. There are horses made of wicker, horses made of metal and horses made of flowers. There are visiting hobby horses from the famous Abbots Bromley, the Hob Nob horse from Salisbury, Sam the 100-year-old horse from Ilmington, Warwickshire and so forth. All are welcome and it's usually possible to borrow a hobby horse on the day and enter one of the races.
You will find events taking place all over Banbury town centre on the Saturday. On the Sunday there is a civic service in St Mary's church and the races in People's Park (walking distance from the town centre). Quite one of the most magical events in the English folklore calendar.
For dates and other details of the festival, visit the official website: www.hobbyhorsefestival.co.uk