During the long, dark, telly-less winters of old in the Dalarna region of central Sweden, dads would sit by the fireside and carve wooden toys for their children. The most popular of these was a stout little horse, modelled on the animals used to haul timber from the woods. By the 19th century, these painted horses had become objects of desire for a market beyond the forests, and a cottage industry developed, with carpenters and furniture-makers turning offcuts into horses.
In 1939, a giant Dala horse was shown at the New York World’s Fair, making the transition from local knick-knack to internationally recognised symbol of Sweden. Travel to Stockholm or Gothenburg now and you’ll see vast herds of the beasts on sale, painted in the traditional bright red or in more exotic colours and designs, but the best are made in the lakeside village of Nusnäs, deep in the forests 180 miles northwest of Stockholm.