It's a Big Small World

EquiSearch.com columnist Suzanne Drnec discovers the world of model horse showing.
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I went to a little horse show the other day. It was similar to most shows: dozens of beautiful horses, all groomed to perfection with shining hooves, bright expressions, and not a hair out of place, waiting to be judged and, with luck, bring home a ribbon for their happy owners. Tack gleamed, the crowd murmured as each beautiful animal was posed for the judges, and excitement was almost tangible. As classes were pinned and exhibitors headed back to their stables, either elated or disappointed, plans were made for ?next time.' Unusual about this show, though, were the horses' sizes: All were less than three hands high. It was my first exposure to the growing hobby of model horse showing.

Far removed from the beloved and now-shabby model horses of my youth (of course I still have most of them,) these model horses were exquisite representations of their larger inspirations. Wild colors predominated: Paints, Pintos, and Appaloosas, with lots of grays, roans, buckskins, and palominos to round out the horses of a different color. Breeds ranged from the expected Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses to some not so common strains--Gypsy Vanners, Haflingers, Icelandics, Friesians, and even a few unicorns.

Most of the horses were the traditional size, a little under two hands at the withers, and most sported customized paint, bodies, and even hair. Model aficionados have figured out how to re-sculpt regular resin molds, like older Breyers, and turn them into something new. By changing the leg stance, muscling, and facial structure of a standard Arabian mare model, for example, a horse artiste might come up with a conformationally correct and attractive stock horse. Then, with meticulous air-brushed paint and a little more body sculpting, a new Paint reiner is born.

Seams are sanded down, ears and nostrils and hooves are routed out and re-filled with veins and frogs, eyes are enlarged and painted in realistic tones, throatlatches are trimmed and lengthened--anything breeders wish they could order on their live horses is doable with models. Thus, to knowledgeable hobbyists, flawless conformation and exemplary breed characteristics are all within reach. Though many models have elaborate manes and tails molded in, some craftspeople choose to add real fiber manes and tails; some hunters have tiny braids thinner than a pencil lead. This is not a hobby for the myopic, or those with clumsy hands.

I learned that there's a class for almost every possible horse, and that each one had a bewildering alphabet of abbreviations. OF is original finish, meaning out-of-the-box Breyers or Stone Horses. Each one is carefully chosen from retailers' shelves to have better painting, smoother seams, and more 'personality' than others which are theoretically identical. CM is custom molding. Body parts are changed or enhanced to create a different-looking model. NAN stands for North American Nationals, which is like a Super Bowl show. Each model qualified to compete by winning first or second at a qualifying event. LS means Live Show, like the one I visited, where the models are brought in and judged against others of their kind, using banquet tables as their show arena. Photo shows, on the other hand, take place when model owners mail photos of their steeds to a judge for evaluation. Performance classes include amazingly detailed and correct tack, sometimes a doll rider, and oftentimes props, like jumps or trail obstacles.

Lest this appear to be a toy show, I visited with exhibitors and learned that some particularly fabulous models, especially those with show records and customized by the hobby's top artists, can bring several thousands dollars when they change hands. While both Breyer and Peter Stone's Stone Horses are the most prevalent at shows, many model show fans choose artist's resins. Artist's resins are cast in various 'alloys' of plastics from special molds that produce perhaps 50 to 75 pieces, then are destroyed. These resins--often incredibly lifelike, with details like clinched horseshoe nails on the hooves--are sold unpainted, then customized by the owner.

Who does this hobby attract? All kinds of people, most of whom have owned live horses. With show clubs all over the world, the hobby is growing rapidly and adding new divisions as new models are released, and as the participants think of new classes for their charges. The demographics seem quite similar to owners of live horses: mostly women in their thirties to fifties, with enough disposable income to spend several thousand dollars on their collections, and travel to live shows. Another common denominator is Internet access: The rise of model horse showing corresponds to chat groups and eBay auctions (where horse models and accessories are sold to the highest bidder).

And the big question, of course, is why would anyone spend thousands of dollars on plastic horses? Linda, a corporate attorney, life-long horse lover, and model collector, explains "Models allow me to have a world-class stable of whatever breed of horses I want, without having to pay the vet bills and upkeep." She adds, "It's a lot of fun. We really go to the shows to see each other and socialize, more than anything." And of course, the arena never gets dusty.

? 2002 Suzanne Drnec

Writing or riding, Suzanne Drnec enjoys horses and their people.
Drnec is president of Hobby Horse Clothing Company,
www.hobbyhorseinc.com, a show apparel
manufacturer, and also the caretaker of an assortment of lawn ornaments including a
Paint, a Quarter horse, and an antique Arabian. Comments? E-mail them to
suzi@hobbyhorseinc.com.

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