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Horse Play Dorset's Toy company

PUBLISHED: 14:50 23 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:12 20 February 2013

Horse Play Dorset's Toy company

Horse Play Dorset's Toy company

Crossing generations, Helen Fisher discovers why Dorset's Julip horses remain a firm favourite on every little girl's Christmas list, even royal ones

Horse Play


Crossing generations, Helen Fisher discovers why Dorsets Julip horses remain a firm favourite on every little girls Christmas list, even royal ones

Nintendo DS, PSP, X Box its another language, isnt it? Thankfully there are some toys that seem to be hard-wired into childrens DNA. Modern technology has yet to erase the allure of the pony. But for those who have no prospect of owning the real thing, theres always a Julip. These solid little model horses have galloped their way into millions of little girls bedrooms, rescuing them from a life devoid of equine love.
For 65 years children and collectors worldwide have cherished their Julip horses. And to this day they are still made the way they have always been, by hand; and for the last 26 years, that means in Dorset.
The Julip story begins in 1945 when Lavender Dower started making model horses out of chamois leather and lead salvaged from the rubble of London buildings bombed-out during the Second World War. The scavenged lead was imperative as this made their little legs bendy. Five years later the company switched to making the horses out of latex, a material still used today in their current line of Julip Originals.
Lavenders model horses were originally sold from a shop in Beauchamp Place not far from Harrods. Then in the early 60s Mr and Mrs Heath bought the company and moved the manufacturing side of the business out of London but continued to sell through the Beauchamp Place premises. Former customers still fondly remember the legendary shops wallpaper depicting scenes of Victorian horses and carriages.
But before the premises disappeared altogether, something magical happened. A little girl called Annabel was taken to the shop and introduced to her first Julip horses. I was given my first two Julips by my parents when I was six, she recalls fondly. They were copies of my own ponies and I instantly fell in love with the world of Julip.
Annabel Levaux Davies attended school in Paris, where her new toys were a real hit with her friends. So her mother contacted the Heaths to see if they would be happy for her to sell some of their horses in France. They were quite elderly by then and the business was a bit shambolic, recalls Annabel. Either the wrong stuff would arrive or nothing at all, so Mum asked them if they would consider selling the company to her.
Mrs Heath, a deeply religious woman, said she would be happy to sell but needed a sign from the Lord. And so it transpired, a few years later, that she eventually received her nod of approval from God, at a Billy Graham convention. By then Annabel was working in advertising in London. Mum suggested I go 50/50 with her, and I jumped at the chance of leaving the city to help run the company in Dorset.
It was now the 1980s and new regulations meant that the Julip horses were reclassified as collectors items rather than toys and deemed unsuitable for any collector under the age of 14. This gave Annabel and her team the perfect opportunity to launch a new range targeting the toy market, called the Horse of the Year, or HOTY as Annabel affectionately refers to them. The result was a high-quality, solid, durable horse made of vinyl, with legs that give but wont break.
Have you ever felt a Julip? Annabel asks. Born and bred in inner-city London, my potential for contact with ponies real or Julip was minimal. I shake my head. Annabel gently drops one into my hands. My first reaction is how heavy it is. After clip-clopping my new pony across Annabels desk and stroking its mane, I was beginning to understand their magical appeal.
The Originals, which are the collectors items, have different manes; theyre made with a very expensive dolls hair from Italy, whereas the HOTY ponies are good for smaller children and virtually impossible to break. She duly demonstrates by whacking my new friend several times against her desk top.
As with any real-life horse, there are all sorts of bits of tack and the range of miniature accessories is astonishing bridles, saddles, horse blankets, rosettes, feed buckets, wheelbarrows, tiny carrots and apples, hay nets, jumps, tail and leg bandages, grooming kits, right through to stables, horse boxes, riders; theres even Measles, the stable dog!
Even after all these years it still surprises Annabel how devoted her customers are. I have one lady who lives in Hong Kong who has a whole room in her house devoted to Julip.
Annabels latest venture, Julip Live, gives ardent fans a chance to showcase their collections and try out their skills at hand-painting their own pony. Collections of over 150 horses are by no means an exception. Many have more than 300. They love their ponies with an enormous passion.
Over the years Annabel has donated to countless horsey charity events. On one such occasion when she was presenting a cheque to Princess Anne, Her Royal Highness piped up, Oh my God, Julip! Your ponies are littered all over our house! Princess Eugenie and Beatrice have also been fans, as was their mother, the Duchess of York. Annabel adds, Fifi Trixibelle Geldof was once a member of the Julip Pony Club Newsletter. Over the years theres been an endless stream of politicians and rock stars children who have loved our ponies.
This love for the brand has been taken to extremes by some. One of the shops we supplied rang us to say that theyd been burgled and the only thing taken was the Julip stock! She laughs, Tragic for the shops owners, but personally, I thought this was rather flattering. As a toymaker such selective burglary has to be seen as the ultimate compliment.

Julip Horses, The Stables,
West Chelborough, Dorchester, DT2 0PY;
01935 483400; juliphorses.com

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