with Horse and Hound

New Exhibits at Museum of Hounds and Hunting: One Master’s Retirement Project

meg gardner toy horse

I’m looking forward to the new exhibits at the Museum of Hounds and Hunting. They’ll open the day before the Virginia Foxhound Show at Morven Park, Saturday afternoon, May 25, 2019 at 4:00 pm. In addition to the permanent exhibits, including the hallowed Huntsmen’s Room, visitors will see twelve ancient wooden toy horses lovingly restored by Meg Gardner, ex-MFH and Field Master of the Middleburg Hunt (VA). Meg retired as Master in 1994.

She was a superb horsewoman and adventurous Field Master. I followed her over a five-foot stone wall once—yes, someone measured it—and we weren’t even running at the time. In cold blood. Just something she decided to do for a lark. No panel. No rider. Just a solid stone wall. But as for artistic restoration of wooden rocking horses? Who knew?

Meg was born in England, and—as were all British citizens during the war years there—she was deprived. The six-year-old longed for a toy horse, but such luxuries weren’t being manufactured at the time. Now, after a long career as a foxhunter, MFH, horse trainer, side saddle and jumper competitor nationally, she is committed to elaborate gardening and horse rescue. Toy horse rescue, that is. Finding fine examples of old rocking, gliding, and wheeled wooden horses and rehabilitating them.

John Head, a member of the Museum’s Advisory Committee, explains the roots of these toy horses which came in several forms for children and will be on display.

“Toy horses excavated in ancient Persia, Greece, Rome, and the Far East, made from bronze, terracotta and wood are well documented. Designs in each culture often include wheels for push or pull action. Rocking motion came later.

“The Victoria and Albert Museum features an English Elm bow rocking horse, c. 1610, possibly belonging in childhood to King Charles I. On a bow horse a spirited rider could propel around a room or palace. Trestle gliders, which parents liked for their stationary safety, became popular in the mid-nineteenth century. Creative play in a world of make-believe is also part of the toy rocking horse’s appeal.

“Meg Gardner’s Rescued Rocking Horses feature wheeled, bow rocker, and glider horses belonging to young children in Europe and America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Each was found discarded, ready for repair, and has been returned to near original condition. Over the past ten years, Mrs. Gardner has performed all of the necessary repairs herself, sometimes commissioning a new saddle or bridle.

“Growing up in England, Meg did not have a rocking horse; they were not made during World War II. Ponies and horses were also scarce. Her foxhunting experiences began at age five on hired ponies, and she rode throughout her youth, finally receiving a horse of her very own at age fifteen. Some years later, Meg moved to Middleburg to continue pursuing her passion for horses. Boarding, training, showing, and making field hunters for many years, Mrs. Gardner was Master of the Middleburg Hunt from 1984 to 1994.

“A lifelong passion for horses now includes the rescue and restoration of toy horses.

“The Museum is proud to present the first public exhibition of Meg Gardner’s restoration efforts. Even in repose these unique toys still evoke childhood fun and dreams.”

A sporting art exhibit and sale will also open, consisting of twelve paintings by twelve familiar and talented sporting artists. Both exhibits will run through June 30th. Stay for the reception at 5:00 pm and relax at a table on the mansion portico.

Posted May 15, 2019