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Olivia O’Connor takes a full month to make a rocking horse. The painstaking work starts with a chunk of raw timber that she carves into shape. After sanding the body smooth, she paints on the horse’s coat – often a traditional dapple grey, or perhaps jet black or a handsome bay – she attaches the ‘crowning glory’, a flowing horsehair mane and long thick tail. Olivia even crafts a miniature saddle, complete with stirrups and girth and a bridle with a bit.
For Olivia, this is time well spent. It’s about craftsmanship and attention to detail – and creating an object of joy and beauty that will last not just one lifetime but several.
‘I mainly sell to people who want an heirloom, knowing in 150 years it will still be in good condition.’ she says.
Since 2013, Olivia has been making rocking horses in the garage on her parents’ 60 hectare farm at Berrys Creek in South Gippsland. Working with timber, and making rocking horses and small wooden toys, is not just her livelihood it’s also her passion.
To Olivia, the rocking horses are much more than playthings; they’re treasures to be loved and passed on. ‘A lot of grandparents buy them for a baby’s christening or welcome-to-the-world present. And with Christmas coming, I’ve made sure I have a few spares.’
The 26 year-old grew up loving and riding real life horses on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, but it wasn’t until studied furniture design and construction at RMIT University that she discovered another love: working with timber. Later she switched to a prop-making course at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Sydney, where ‘we were given six months to make anything we liked, so I made a rocking horse.’
Fresh out of NIDA in 2011, she headed to London to work at the national Theatre. There, one of the props making projects was again close to her heart. ‘I was a saddle maker for the New York production of War Horse, which features life-size horse puppets.’
By then she was yearning to be back in the country and making rocking horses full time. ‘I didn’t like living in the city; I really like the country and the space.’
These days Olivia lives with her red heeler Ruby in a rented house in the valley below the farm.
The day starts early and finishes late. Walks to the dam give her time to think. But when Olivia seeks inspiration, she need only look out in the paddock where her father, a racehorse trainer, has two horses enjoying retirement.
‘I’m lucky the horses are here, I used to draw horses all the time when I was young, but now if I get stumped, I’ll go out and look at them if I want to see how the cheekbone goes…’
Her father lets the horses’ tails grow long so Olivia has a ready source of hair for manes and tails. She also buys hair form the US. Otherwise she only uses sustainable Australian materials. ‘I use a range of timber, which is clear of knots and beautiful for carving, and only Australian leather for the saddles.’ The horses are mounted on stands rather than bow rockers, and come in three sizes – ‘stallions, mares and ponies.’ Olivia models them on traditional British rocking horses, which have a more lifelike appearance than the fiery carousel horses of the German rockers, ‘The older German horses are more severe and angular, with flaring nostrils and wild eyes,’ she says. ‘My horses all have friendly expressions. I like to think they’re all happy – and not terrifying!’
In between rocking horses Olivia enjoys making traditional wooden toys, including paddle ducks, pull-along rabbits, little cars and old-fashioned hobby horses. She also takes the odd commission for furniture, art and home wares. But the rocking horses are her favourite by far.
‘I love them all – I couldn’t not get attached when I’m working on them this long. Yet I love sending them off, too. It’s the thought that I start with a raw plank of timber and by the end I’ve made something beautiful and loveable that will be cherished for generations.’
Olivia O’Connor takes a full month to make a rocking horse. The painstaking work starts with a chunk of raw timber that she carves into shape. After sanding the body smooth, she paints on the horse’s coat – often a traditional dapple grey, or perhaps jet black or a handsome bay – she attaches the ‘crowning glory’, a flowing horsehair mane and long thick tail. Olivia even crafts a miniature saddle, complete with stirrups and girth and a bridle with a bit.
For Olivia, this is time well spent. It’s about craftsmanship and attention to detail – and creating an object of joy and beauty that will last not just one lifetime but several.
‘I mainly sell to people who want an heirloom, knowing in 150 years it will still be in good condition.’ she says.
Since 2013, Olivia has been making rocking horses in the garage on her parents’ 60 hectare farm at Berrys Creek in South Gippsland. Working with timber, and making rocking horses and small wooden toys, is not just her livelihood it’s also her passion.
To Olivia, the rocking horses are much more than playthings; they’re treasures to be loved and passed on. ‘A lot of grandparents buy them for a baby’s christening or welcome-to-the-world present. And with Christmas coming, I’ve made sure I have a few spares.’
The 26 year-old grew up loving and riding real life horses on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, but it wasn’t until studied furniture design and construction at RMIT University that she discovered another love: working with timber. Later she switched to a prop-making course at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Sydney, where ‘we were given six months to make anything we liked, so I made a rocking horse.’
Fresh out of NIDA in 2011, she headed to London to work at the national Theatre. There, one of the props making projects was again close to her heart. ‘I was a saddle maker for the New York production of War Horse, which features life-size horse puppets.’
By then she was yearning to be back in the country and making rocking horses full time. ‘I didn’t like living in the city; I really like the country and the space.’
These days Olivia lives with her red heeler Ruby in a rented house in the valley below the farm.
The day starts early and finishes late. Walks to the dam give her time to think. But when Olivia seeks inspiration, she need only look out in the paddock where her father, a racehorse trainer, has two horses enjoying retirement.
‘I’m lucky the horses are here, I used to draw horses all the time when I was young, but now if I get stumped, I’ll go out and look at them if I want to see how the cheekbone goes…’
Her father lets the horses’ tails grow long so Olivia has a ready source of hair for manes and tails. She also buys hair form the US. Otherwise she only uses sustainable Australian materials. ‘I use a range of timber, which is clear of knots and beautiful for carving, and only Australian leather for the saddles.’ The horses are mounted on stands rather than bow rockers, and come in three sizes – ‘stallions, mares and ponies.’ Olivia models them on traditional British rocking horses, which have a more lifelike appearance than the fiery carousel horses of the German rockers, ‘The older German horses are more severe and angular, with flaring nostrils and wild eyes,’ she says. ‘My horses all have friendly expressions. I like to think they’re all happy – and not terrifying!’
In between rocking horses Olivia enjoys making traditional wooden toys, including paddle ducks, pull-along rabbits, little cars and old-fashioned hobby horses. She also takes the odd commission for furniture, art and home wares. But the rocking horses are her favourite by far.
‘I love them all – I couldn’t not get attached when I’m working on them this long. Yet I love sending them off, too. It’s the thought that I start with a raw plank of timber and by the end I’ve made something beautiful and loveable that will be cherished for generations.’

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