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Spotlight on... the Dala horse

I bought this little chap from a second-hand shop near my house as a Christmas present, but he never made it out of the house. 

I should have known myself better, given my love of all horse-themed house items.

At the weekend, as part of my more houseplants mission, I picked up the leafy example you can also see in the photo below (from the Morden Hall nursery – a very nice place, by the way, with parkland and a cafe attached, if south of London is within your reach). And a little shelf revamp involving the horse came about.

I thought I had nothing that the bright red horse would go with. And so he'd been camping out in my office, all the better to remind me he was not mine to keep. But I've given in, as it seems I do.

The Pony picture is actually a bar mat that Abi gave me (it reads: "The little drink with a big kick". I have yet to discover where one might taste it...). With its red detailing it goes especially well with the Dala horse. The Sunny Jim stuffed toy – also handily in good colours – is very, very old and came from a 1980s packet of Force Flakes cereal (he was the logo). There's also a flash of red in the excellently named incense (it's called Strong Love) bought in a voodoo sort of a shop in my local market. The black and white photos are of my parents and the building in a frame is a paper bag from the Barbican cafe that I picked up after doing an amazing architectural tour there.

The horse fits in too well, and has even less chance of being gifted now...

You'll have seen these wooden horses all over the place: they're called Dala horses and became somewhat of a culturally significant symbol in their country of origin, Sweden.

They've got a long history, dating back 400-odd years but became prominent more recently. In 1939, a giant version of one of the distinctively carved beasts, painted in bright colours, was displayed at the Swedish Pavillion at New York's World Exhibition. It was popular and the following year, little versions were shipped out to New York to be sold.

The primitively carved figurines originated in the country's central Dalarna region, in around the 17th century, when men working in the forests carved them for children to play with. The horses were also sold in local markets and became popular enough to create a trade for many families. One such family formed a business making the horses in 1928 and relatives still produce and sell the models today.

Now you can find Dala horses online from the Swedish Wooden Horse Company. They sell the brightly painted – more traditional – versions too, but I prefer these muted grey ones. They also come in soft white. Prices start at £16.95.

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