Monday 13 March 2023

Animal Guising and the Hooden Horse - Exhibition

Here are some photos I took at Animal Guising and the Kentish Hooden Horse, a free exhibition at Maidstone Museum. 

Hooden horses are a bit like pantomime horses. They have wooden heads with snapping jaws and a cloth body covering the person (or people) inside and are part of traditional Christmas festivities in Kent. People would go from door to door in costumes accompanying the horse then put on a performance with music and dancing. It's thought that this was partly a recognition of the importance of real horses in agricultural work in bygone times. Nowadays hooden horses are popular as part of folk festivals and Morris dancing events.

Similar customs occur all over England and Wales including Northern skull horses; the Old Tup (pictured left); Mari Lwyd; Obby Osses; and stag disguises. The Museum’s regular collection includes two old Hooden Horses and this exhibition has brought them together with other 'osses old and new - including one from Beckenham, near where I live. 

There's even some modern re-inventions of the custom. These include a huge Black Dog from Cornwall, made by Mark Norman (pictured right), and an example of Autohoodening, a new kind of folk performance about the precarity of contemporary seasonal working (pictured below).

Animal Guising and the Kentish Hooden Horse is on until Saturday 17 June alongside another exhibition, Discovering a Bronze Age Hoard. Both displays are at Maidstone Museum, St. Faith's Street, Maidstone, Kent, ME14 1LH. Entry is free.

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