There are few toys that offer the splendour, old-world charm and timeless delight of a rocking horse. For Pete Jensen, bringing these artisanal pieces to a modern market is a process of craftsmanship, creativity and love in which he flourishes.
Pete made his first rocking horses on his Bullsbrook property in 2009 for his young daughters.
“I bought a set of plans and the materials from a guy in NSW and gave it a go,” said Pete. “They were a bit rough at that stage, not like they are now,” he laughs.
Rough or not, those who saw his horses were impressed and word-of-mouth orders began to trickle in. Pete set about sourcing the materials, which include real horse hair manes and tails from Mongolia and renewable, furniture-grade pine from New Zealand.
“Furniture grade means it has no knots,” explains Pete. “You don’t want knots in your wood, or weakness and splits. The wood, combined with the way I put it together, makes for a really strong piece.
The flexibility of pine allows Pete to offer his horses in whatever stain or colour the customer would like, often blending colours to get the exact look of a Palomino, or to replicate the look of a beloved horse.
“I love the wood grain finish,” says Pete. “Some of the pine is just beautiful. You try not to overstain it and once you pop a lacquer on it its almost three dimensional.
“I can use other wood — walnut, jarrah, sheoak, whatever people want – but it adds to the cost. I want my horses to be affordable — some horses in England sell for more than twenty thousand pounds!”
Pete is one of those innately handy people who have never taken a class in what they excel at, though his early career as a fitter did provide him with ample opportunity to perfect the technical skills he now uses on his horses.
“In the late 70’s, early 80’s there were no computers – we were lucky to have electricity! We used to make parts for the machines by hand and everything had to be just right.
“Everyone asks, ‘Are you a carpenter?’ but I actually class myself as an artist.”
Working the construction of rocking horses around his job as a paramedic, Pete finds it hard to quantify just how many hours goes into producing his creations.
“I’ve never got up every day and made a horse from start to finish. I expect my horses to be perfect and beautiful. I put a lot of effort into it and I take a lot of pride in it.”
Pete’s job as a paramedic has inspired him to offer one of his horses up for raffle to raise money for Telethon – and he has currently raised more than $5000.
“Attending to children is one of the most challenging parts of the job,” said Pete. “They are the ones that can stay in your heart forever. I have the chance to take that help a step further and raise money for the care needed after we have attended to them.”
Pete models his horses on the designs of the Roebuck family — one of the oldest and longest-running Australian family rocking horse businesses. Spanning 140 years, three countries and four generations, they ceased production in 1972, unable to compete with plastic toys starting to flood the market.
And while plastic toys continue to pile up in homes and in landfill with all the longevity of a celebrity marriage, more and more people are coming full circle, appreciating a finely-crafted item that will last for generations.
The level of detail and customisation available in Pete’s horses provides families with a truly bespoke heirloom piece. Incorporating leather saddle, brass fittings, glass eyes, eyelashes, teeth – you can even include the family tartan or have hooves painted to match your own pony! A lovely feature of Pete’s horses is a secret compartment in the horse’s belly which can be used as a time capsule – or as one customer has suggested, storing her ashes in there so she can continue to play with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren after she has passed away.
“I just love it,” says Pete. “I take a plank of wood and turn it into something a child can cherish. I get attached to the horses – it’s hard to walk away from them.”
Pete’s partner Jo, who finds his seemingly endless array of skills lovingly infuriating, says, “He’s a perfectionist, but it doesn’t fry his brain. The first time I saw a finished rocking horse, I was emotional.”
You can follow Pete’s herd of rocking horses via his Facebook page Hand Crafted Rocking Horses or give him a call on 0409 377 652. To donate to the Telethon appeal head to https://my.fundraising.telethon7.com/fundraise-for-telethon/hand-crafted-rocking-horses?fbclid=IwAR2D12brHC85lP_uT-t2sGKreMYMulWFsaHY3oOxBa9Cx5O5e145CkRNpTY