Elizabeth Mangles has
carved a career for herself
making rocking horses and
Tessa Gates visited her
YOU might expect to find a horse or two on a farm, but nothing quite as exotic as the ones at Northdown Farm, Haselbury Plucknett.
Here, on this Somerset cider apple farm, long-maned rocking horses – sleek and beautiful – colourful seahorses and other wonderfully adorned steeds that will carry riders up and down and round and round on steam-driven carousels, are created by Elizabeth Mangles.
"I always wanted a rocking horse when I was little, and at l4 said I wanted to marry a farmer and make rocking horses," recalls Elizabeth. She read agricultural botany at university, but realised her ambitions when she married David. The couple, who have three children aged 5-9 years, took over the apple farm when Davids parents retired in 1995, but David has to supplement the income from the 16ha (40-acre) farm by working full time as an electronic engineer.
"The money you get for the end-product has dropped. My father was getting £120/t for apples 15 years ago and I get £98/t today," says David, who grew up on the farm. Eliza-beth came to Hasel-bury Plucknett when her parents moved to the area. In nearby Crewkerne, Margaret Spencer made rocking horses and Elizabeth was taken on "as her totally inexperienced assistant", and learnt the craft working part-time at first and then full time for Margaret for five years.
"When I first approached Margaret she said go away and carve a horses head. I hadnt done any carving really, but I used the end of an old beam my Dad had and carved a head. She quite liked it." But it was to be the last horses head Elizabeth carved for her for a long time. Assistants do the post, answer the phone and… "I carved horses bottoms because Margaret felt that was safe – but never a head," recalls Elizabeth. "I would work all afternoon and then she would take a mallet and go bash, bash. The fault most people make is not taking enough wood off."
Her big break came with an order for 24 roundabout horses. Every horse was different and had other animals carved into them, too. "They were very intricate and each horse had a story, including St Georges horse with a dragon. It was very dramatic."
Then came an Easter roundabout with lambs and chickens instead of horses to ride on, all carved to Elizabeths own designs. Reindeer were made for a Christmas carousel ride and seahorses, sealions and dolphins for one at a sea life centre. "I had a job with the seahorse tails as you do not want them too long or there is no room for the ride to go up and down, and the sealions were quite a job to get the proportions right," she says. "Roundabouts can be a years work.
"Everything I make looks happy. Old roundabouts all looked scary, they had to be exciting, it was all part of the thrill of the ride."
Her rocking horses have sweet faces. "They are all different, but all have the "aah" quality. The idea is to make the child love it and want to ride it," says Elizabeth. She uses all English wood. Limewood for the her horses and hardwood for the rockers. The manes and tails are real hair on leather and will last for years. The paint is airbrushed on and each horse has removable tack. They come in two sizes and cost from £1000 to £1500. "You wont grow out of them and they are strong enough even for adults to ride," she says.
Customers wait two to three months for their order. "It is just lovely when you get a horse to the person and they are so appreciative they just burst into tears."
Inquiries: 01460 723590.