Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Today the Minehead Hobby Horse sleeps until next year

May Day is one of the biggest events in the English folklore calender, with all sorts of great events going on around the country - from maypole dancing to music and bonfires. This day has a special significance in Minehead, Somerset, as the morning echoes with drumbeats and a strange creature stirrs. The Hobby Horse (or 'Oss, if you're from the area) is a man dressed in a large clothed frame and wearing a colourful yet grotesque mask, who dances through the streets with an entourage of musicians, collecting money from passers-by and whipping those who don't cough up with his rope tail.

Historians and folklorists are unsure of how the tradition originated, but it has commonly been put down to being a commemoration ceremony of a wrecked ship. However other hypotheses include the Horse being an attempt to ward off Viking invaders, or even a phantom ship that came to the harbour without a crew or captain. The tradition can be traced back to 1792 from records in Dunster Castle.

The Hobby Horse dances through the streets for three days until on the 3rd May when the celebration culminates in a game where spectators must escape the Horse's tail whip.