Many critics consider Lawrence's short stories his most artistically accomplished writing and have attributed much of their success to the constraints of the form, which forced Lawrence to deny himself the elaborations, diversions, and repetitions that are integral aspects of his longer works. Critics view "The Rocking-Horse Winner" in this light, as an example of economical style and structure in Lawrence's short fiction. Lawrence's early short stories were written in a manner similar to that of Robert Louis Stevenson or Rudyard Kipling, whose anecdotes and tales of adventure epitomized the traditional nineteenth-century English short story. His later short stories, such as "The Rocking-Horse Winner," emphasize abstraction and argument. Critics argue that this story is an example of Lawrence moving away from realism and encompassing a broader range of styles and subjects. They view "The Rocking-Horse Winner" as an example of Lawrence's later period, in which his keen insight and sturdy craft are the result of many years of experience.
Many of Lawrence's works were considered controversial, and "The Rocking-Horse Winner" is no exception. The story has generated a large amount of scholarly debate and has been compared to a wide variety of other works, including classic myths, parables, and the writings of Charles Dickens, among others. Some critics focus on the socio-economic, religious, and sexual aspects of the story. Other critics have highlighted the Freudian aspects of the work or have interpreted it in terms of economic theories and spiritual allusions. "The Rocking-Horse Winner" has been criticized for its didactic qualities; that is, some critics feel the story is too focused on teaching a lesson. Though the story continues to stimulate debate, most critics agree that the plot, description, dialogue, and symbolism of the story are presented with great skill.