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Sculptor Steve offers a course for horses

Morris and mummers' sides that don't own a hobby animal are being offered professional help this summer.

As part of the second Banbury Hobby Horse Festival, sculptor Steve Rowley is running a one-day workshop on beast-making - with the aim of producing finished animals, ready to ride the next day.

Steve, who's a member of Gloucestershire Morris Men, has specialised in making spectacular creatures in his career as an artist, often as part of large-scale community projects.

He's spent 20 years researching the subject - often making new discoveries when he takes time off for his other great passion, sailing ocean yachts and square-riggers.

Last year he had a first encounter with a traditional "steel donkey" during a stopover in Barbados. He's now planning to use the design in his Banbury workshop on Saturday, 30 July, 2001 - the first day of the weekend-long festival.

Festival co-ordinator Simon Pipe says: "Steve's already won himself big fans in Banbury, by making our own hobby horse - a magnificent white horse named Blanche, ridden by a certain Fine Lady of nursery rhyme fame.

"This workshop offers people an extraordinary opportunity. Rather than spending weeks blundering about on their own at home, people can make an animal in a single day, with an expert showing them the tricks for achieving a great result in the shortest possible time.

"The workshop costs only A35 per adult - which includes the cost of materials. Ideally, we'll have between two and four people working on each animal - so you go away with a hobby horse that's cost no more than A320.

"And at the end of it, there's the fun of taking part in our festival procession the next day - Town Mayor's Sunday.

"By mid April we had more than 30 animals lined up at attend the festival from across England and Wales, mostly from the morris community. So anyone from the morris world who comes to Steve's workshop is going to find themselves in very good company - especially when the festivities shift to Adderbury on the Saturday night."

Among the festival guests are Coventry Mummers, with their Tup; Minehead Town Horse; Chipping Campden, Adderbury and Ilmington morris teams, all with their own animals; and the four horses of The Outside Capering Crew.

Whitstable Hoodeners are bringing their own horse and also the Hoath Hooden Horse, which was discovered in a barn by a pub landlord - it's around a 100 years old, and one of the few animals surviving from the last heyday of a custom unique to Kent.

"We want to give priority at the workshop to local groups who will be able to participate in the festival in future years," says Simon. "But that should leave plenty of room for people from outside the area. Steve says he can handle up to seven groups in a single day - rather him than me!"

Steve describes his "horse course" as follows:

A one-day workshop in making traditional hobby horses and Beasts of Disguise.

Sculptor and folk artist Stephen Rowley will help you design and make a hobby horse in a day, ready to take part in the procession on Sunday.

Materials will be provided to make a variety of beasts. But if you have some design ideas, or favourite materials you want to incorporate - please bring them along.

Stephen has worked with beasts and hobby horses for over 20 years, and studied them in this country and abroad. His works include a 10-metre dragon for the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra, and a four-metre-high Giant he made for Thrupp, a small village near Stroud, UK.

His favourite is Blanche, the White Horse he made for Banbury last year. This horse was based on medieval drawings and researched in museums around the country.

The workshops this year will include the "steel donkey" - a traditional hobby horse design that Stephen discovered still in use in Barbados.

Due to the short time available in which to complete the hobby horses, it will be necessary to work in groups. Children must be accompanied by adults.

For information, phone festival organiser Verna Wass on 01295 758222, or Simon Pipe on 01295 812368. E-mail

Banbury Hobby Horse Festival

2001 Simon Pipe, Mark Rogers

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