applies the first coat of finish to one of his wooden rocking
horses. “Look at the way the
finish brings out the wood,” he says. He will eventually
apply three coats of polyurethane.
He begins with
a piece of wood and a memory. First, he pencils the profile of a
Tennessee walking horse — head held high, front leg lifted
elegantly, long tail sweeping the ground. Then, he cuts out the body
and limbs one part at a time. He sands the wood smooth and attaches
the limbs using glue and screws. Slowly, the horse comes to life.
He flips the beast on its back and screws in its rockers. After attaching
handles and brushing off the sawdust, he adds a coat of finish.
child is born,” says Wayne Lough, stepping back to admire
smiles and slowly circles the horse, gazing at it from every angle.
His blue eyes peer out from behind small wire frames that rest atop
his button nose. Wayne bends down to look at the creature’s
underbelly and touches up a spot on its back rocker. The horse will
sit for several days and get two more coats of finish before being
saddled and sold. In the mean time, it will rest in its stable — the
small shop behind Wayne’s country
home outside Salem.
horses are more than children’s
nursery toys; they are a work of art. It takes Wayne nearly a week to completely
finish a single horse. The mane is carefully carved with a router bit to
show long strands of hair. The hooves are created from dark wood to reflect
the contrast in color. Special attention is given every step of the way — from
the selection of the wood to the type of leather used for the horse reins.
Wayne offers a variety of horses. They cost between $250 and
sassafras almost gives you the color of a buckskin horse,” says
Wayne, pointing toward a large pile of wood in a corner of the shop.
Wayne utilizes many types of wood to construct his horses — ash,
red oak, sassafras, cherry, mesquite, walnut, birch, maple. From this
wood, he builds the Tennessee walking horse, the Arabian, the American
gaited saddle horse, and even Missouri mules. He takes pride in the details
that set each of his creations apart.
in this wood just blows your mind,” says the Intercounty
Electric member as he picks up a piece of mesquite hauled from Texas
and closely examines the wood’s grain. It is the quality of the
wood Wayne uses that makes his horses so special.
Whereas most rocking
horse manufacturers use plastic or inexpensive lumber, Wayne gets
a discount on high-quality timber from nearby relatives. These connections
make it possible for him to afford the lumber needed to build such
exquisite horses. Still, the expensive lumber and long hours force
Wayne to sell the finished products for anywhere from $250 to $450.
Such a high price tag means Wayne usually only sells to true horse
enthusiasts. Rather than set up at arts and craft shows — as
he has tried unsuccessfully in the past — Wayne attends horse
shows all over the nation. In a year, he usually sells about 30 rocking
horses. At the shows, people often stop and admire his work.
had thousands of people tell me how impressed they were by the
for each horse are carefully selected — from the reins
to the mane. The body of this horse is made from cherry wood.
Of course, Wayne
didn’t always build horses. At one
time, he rode them. As a boy growing up during the Great Depression,
Wayne would ride his fox trotter, Sookey, bareback more than
16 miles each day to and from the Dent County School. After Sookey
there was Chalky, a gaited albino. He still remembers the animal’s
light blue eyes and the way it would stand in a river for hours
while his five children took turns diving off its back. “That
horse had a personality like you’d never dream,” he
says, gazing at a picture of the creature.
After those two
horses, he never bought another. He worked as a carpenter for most
of his life, traveled with the Navy to the island where they loaded
the atomic bomb during World War II, served as Salem’s
presiding commissioner for eight years, and briefly managed
apartments in Springfield during the 1980s.
drills a hole in the horse’s saddle. Building a rocking
horse requires many small, arduous steps.
Not until heart
surgery in 1985 did Wayne return to his first love — horses.
Following a double bypass, doctors told him to exercise more.
Being a life-long carpenter, Wayne already knew how to saw
and hammer. He wandered into his shed one day and built a
love seat with arms like leaping horses. From there, he continued
by building rocking horses, which he stacked up in his living
have seven horses in your house you’ve
got to do something with them,” says his wife, Helen.
So, the Loughs began traveling the country in their motor
home and selling at horse shows. Over time, Wayne sold
more than 600 horses.
designs come purely from his own knowledge of horses — the
way a Tennessee walking horse lifts its front legs while
marching, the elegant curves of an Arabian, the upright
posture of an American gaited saddle horse. He has never
once consulted an arts and crafts magazine or used another
pattern. “I never copied a thing in my life,” he
also helped him create one of his proudest accomplishments — a
wooden adaptor that makes it possible for disabled
children to ride his rocking horses. The adaptor is detachable
and slides over the horse to keep a child from falling
One young rider,
Eli Rader, was born premature, weighing only 1 pound at birth. Eli’s
grandfather, David McDonald of Salem, heard about Wayne’s adaptable
horses and bought one for Eli. Now 2 years old, Eli
climbs onto the horse and rocks back and forth with a huge smile
on his face. “The adaptor lets him
stand clear up,” David says. “He absolutely
| Wayne examines a wooden
plug for a horse saddle he’s building.
The rocking horses’ saddles are detachable.
The first time
Tyler Lough, Wayne’s
6-year-old autistic nephew, mounted his wooden steed
he shouted, “Go, Buck!” Those were the
first words Wayne ever heard from Tyler. Until that
point, the child had communicated solely through
yelling and physical gestures.
“We had never
seen him smile like that,” Wayne says.
Doctors had given Tyler only two more years to
live, but from that moment on his health began
to improve. It was a miracle, Wayne says. His
rocking horse helped Tyler build muscle strength
and gave him a newfound joy. Today, Tyler is
16 and going strong.
In a way, the rocking
horse also helped save Wayne. “Exercise has really
been the thing that kept him alive,” says
She goes on to
list places they have traveled while selling rocking horses — Tennessee,
Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado and Ohio. She
talks about local schools and children’s
hospitals where Wayne has donated the horses.
She notes the countless compliments he’s
received. Wayne just grins.
nothing to do with it,” he says. “The
good Lord grows the trees and I just put
To contact Wayne Lough, call (573) 729-2258, or write to him at Rt.
5, Box 442A, Salem, MO, 65560.