The history of Nipper & Nimble

South Australia's favourite rocking horses

The National Pharmacies Christmas Pageant holds a special place in the heart of many South Australians, as does its icons and stars who have adorned floats for decades. Alongside Santa Claus as the undisputed hero of the event, floats have celebrated everything from clowns and trains to the Queen of the Pageant.

Escorting Santa Claus into the city for generations, rocking horses Nipper and Nimble have become iconic mainstays of the annual event. Gilded in gold trim and perched high upon a blue and silver drum or surrounded by fresh blooms, the white and brown horses have a legacy dating back to the inception of the Christmas Pageant in 1933, when the original founders of the event, the Haywards, first introduced the giant equines to the Magic Cave.


Children riding Nimble at The Magic Cave. Photo courtesy of the South Australian Tourism Commission.


From 1914, the majestic silhouette of a large white house graced the Magic Cave, offering rides upon his painted saddle. Nimble's origins are not certain, although his colouring and stance suggest he was created in the American Coney Island carousel style. Nimble's large size indicates he may have been custom made for purpose, carved specially with intricate details.

For the first Christmas Pageant, Nimble was removed from his home in the Magic Cave and mounted on a hay cart, which was pulled by two Clydesdale horses. By 1950, Nimble's saddle and lead were updated, and eventually the gallant steed was placed upon a large drum, taking pride of place in front of Santa's float to escort him officially through the city streets.


Nimble mounted on the original hay cart float. Photo courtesy of the South Australian Tourism Commission.


First appearing in the Magic Cave in 1926, the little brown rocking horse affectionately dubbed 'Nipper' provided a smaller alternative to children not game enough to take a turn upon the larger of the horses, Nimble.

Nipper was included in the Christmas Pageant to travel in front of Nimble, carried by four strong men, with a young fairy rider upon his saddle. During the 1960s and after extensive restoration, Nipper was eventually mounted alongside Nimble on the drum float.

Ridden by countless lucky young girls in fairy attire during the Pageant over the decades, in 2020, a young boy graced Nipper's saddle for the first time.


The original Nipper float in the Christmas Pageant. Photo courtesy of the South Australian Tourism Commission.

Explore an ode to Nipper and Nimble in Rundle Mall