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Model horses are scale replicas of real horses and are highly collectible. The hobby originated more or less simultaneously—but independently—in the USA, Canada, and the UK, followed later by Sweden (UK-influenced), Germany (US-influenced), Australia. The hobby encompasses a wide variety of activities, from those who simply like to collect to those who enthusiastically show their models at model horse shows. Unlike model cars or trains, model horse collectibles do not need to be assembled from kits, although they can be altered to the collector's liking.
The first mass-produced model horses in the UK were created by Britains Ltd in the 1920s, with Julip Horses Ltd coming on the scene in 1947. Originally, Julips were stuffed soft toys in the tradition of companies such as Edith Reynolds, but later switched to hand-casting in latex (Julip Originals). In the late 1980s, Julip introduced a mass-produced range of vinyl horses - Horse of the Year range - which are made in China. Other significant early British companies were Isis, Pegasus and Otway, all of whom cast models in latex composition (the forerunner of resin). Roy Selwyn-Smith created some very detailed 54 mm ('mini') horses for Britains, but the real quantum leap in quality for British models came with Pamela du Boulay's Rydal models in 1969 - highly accurate, airbrushed sculptures, each an artist original. Beswick also produced a line of horses, but due to their fragility and price few were owned by collectors in the early days.
In the late 1940s to early 1950s in the US, Hartland Collectibles and Breyer Animal Creations (now a division of Reeves International) began producing highly realistic plastic model horses. Both companies' first models were standing western horses next to or over a clock. Most of Breyer's original horses, dogs and cattle were sculpted by Chris Hess and made of durable plastic. The line expanded through the 1960s, and by the 1970s, Breyer and Hartland were the main model lines, although Hagen-Renaker china horses (also produced from the 1950s) sculpted by Maureen Love and others, were also popular.
In the mid-1990s, Peter Stone, son of Sam Stone who originally helped create Breyer Animal Creations, worked for Breyer most of his life but parted ways with Breyer and started his own company. Stone Horses are known for the wide range of special, limited edition runs and collectible decorator colors, as well as turning a popular Quarter Horse resin by Carol Williams into plastic. Today Breyers and Stone Horses are the top two popular plastic model horse brands.
Limited edition artist resins (usually original sculptures rather than customs), first began to appear in the 1980s. The very first were castings taken from customized Breyers, issued by Black Horse Ranch owned by the late Karen Grimm. Carol William's famous "Quarter Horse 1" or "RRQH1" ("RR" for "Rio Rondo", the name of Williams' modeling enterprise) was one of the first to be cast from an original sculpture. Resin models - high-quality castings of an original artist's sculpture - are typically sold unpainted, ready to finish by the customer or a favorite artist. They took the hobby by storm in the 1990s, and are very popular and much-sought after today. A resin can be an affordable way to own a favorite artist's work, although depending on the rarity of the piece, they can become quite expensive. For example, some resins are released in highly limited editions of 50 pieces or less. Such models typically sell out rapidly, and command high secondary-market prices.
Brief history of the hobby
In the late 1960s, UK collectors came together through PONY magazine, and several clubs and newsletters born, the most important being The Postal Pony Club. From this was born the Lindfield Model Showing Association and later Model Horse News (MHN), a bi-monthly magazine which ran until 1989. In 1979 The International Arabist magazine appeared, which though restricted to Arab horses and their descendants, was the first magazine to actively seek to unite hobbyists from around the world. While MHN remained largely in the original tradition of Julips, etc., TIA promoted realism through custom Breyers, etc. TIA changed its name to Model Horse International (MHI) to reflect its move away from purely Arabian interest, but the magazine folded around 1989. MHN also folded around this time, but was replaced by Model Horses Unlimited (MHU) catering for both realistic and more traditional models, and which is still in existence today.
During the 1960s, hobbyists such as Ellen Hitchins, Simone Smiljanic, and Marney Walerius began to organize photo shows. One of the earliest known clubs was the IMHA, or International Model Horse Association, which was run by Ellen and Simone. Many young hobbyists got their start after reading a short article about the model horse hobby, which was published in the March 1969 issue of The Western Horseman magazine. In the 1970s, US model horse collectors decided that their horses should be doing something else than just sitting on a shelf. They began to seek each other out, and early hobby magazines such as Breyer's Just About Horses and Model Horse Showers Journal were the means for lifelong friendships to be started. Realism became the goal of the hobby and as the hobby grew and more techniques were shared, the shift in realism became more apparent. For example, an early bridle might have been made out of string. Today it would be made from leather, and include actual miniature bits.
Clubs also formed as an outlet for collectors. Most clubs are devoted to particular breeds, performance activities (such as racing, eventing etc.) or regions, and just like real horse clubs, there are year end awards, club events, point programs and newsletters for members.
Model horse activities
It is possible to amass hundreds of model horses over time, so some collectors try to "keep it sane" by collecting only one kind of breed, scale or particular mold. Most model horses are in the 1:9 scale (such as Breyer Traditionals and Stone Horses) while others are no bigger than mice, such as Breyer Stablemates and Stone Chips. Usually a model is released in a particular color for a number of years or a limited run. The model horse company may decide to make portrait models of famous horses as well, such as Secretariat and Man o' War. Having a collection of several color versions of one mold is referred to as a "conga line". Other people simply collect what they like, and others may collect in hopes of selling at a profit later on. There is no guarantee that models will increase in value over time. Some have noticed that since the advent of eBay, it is very much a buyer's market and comparing prices has become much easier, so prices have fallen. Buyers can pick and choose and often come away with a horse that cost much less than what it was originally bought. While "mint" condition horses are prized, flawed horses often make nice shelf pieces.
While the original scope of collecting may have focused on plastic horses, they may now be made of resin or ceramic. Common brands are: Breyer Horses, Paradise Horses, Stone Horses, Hagen-Renaker, Royal Doulton, North Light, Grand Champion and Schleich. While most model horses are sold as toys, some, like resins, are delicate, much more expensive and definitely not for children. Common plastic model horses may be bought from toy stores, tack shops, authorized dealers or other collectors. Prices range from a few dollars for a Breyer Stablemate to many thousands for an artist resin.
Some collectors also enjoy amassing hobby literature, such as catalogs, magazines and promotional items.
Not content with factory produced Breyer models, US hobbyists took to remaking factory-made models by adding hair, removing tails or altering the position or color. Many of these early customs are considered crude by today's standards. These early models often had fake fur manes and tails, or were painted with spray paint and even Sharpie markers. Legs were moved by heating plastic with hair dryers or candles.
However, in the late 1970s, British artists finally gained access to Breyers (which were not then commercially available in the UK), and began to rework them using more sophisticated techniques in a deliberate attempt to replicate the realism of the du Boulay Rydals. This comprised the use of airbrushes, fine mohair tops and epoxy putty for resulpting. Today these techniques and the term "customizing" have been adopted worldwide to become effectively hobby standard. Many artists make their living from customizing models, with certain artists widely sought after. It is not uncommon for a well-made custom to fetch hundreds of dollars on eBay.
Showing the model horse
Model horse showing has three ways in which to participate - photo showing, live showing, and postal showing. Photo showing is convenient for people who aren't able to travel or don't live near other collectors. Showholders publish a classlist and invite people to enter for a nominal fee. The shower then takes photos of her horse, usually against a background. On the back of the photo, the horse's vitals are recorded along with the shower's address. A piece of tape is also placed on the back, on which the shower writes down the numbers of the classes in which the horse will be entered. The numbers can be erased afterwards for the next show. Once the showholder receives all the entries, she sorts them by class numbers and begin judging. A showholder may place a horse based on quality of photo, accuracy of breed depiction, and condition. Usually championships and reserves are offered as well. Sometimes ribbons or small prizes are sent to the show entrants along with the returned photographs and show results. More recently, photo shows posted on the Internet have eliminated the cost of postage and long wait for returns.
Live showing is much different. Here again the showholder publishes a classlist and invites other showers to attend. The show is usually held in a large space such as a hotel or arena, and entrants travel in person to attend. Each shower usually gets a table to use as a "home base" in the show hall. The "rings" are tables with ring numbers, where showers place their horses as classes are called. Live shows classlists are usually divided between original finish and customized models, and some also have separate divisions for china figurines, artist resins, and very-rare original finish. Live shows frequently have multiple judges and judge several classes at once to accommodate the long classlists. As in photo showing judges consider condition and breed correctness. Live shows may also include collectibility classes, or may judge breed classes simultaneously for collectibility as well, in which models are thereby evaluated on the bases of rarity and condition, verses breed correctness. Any profits from the shows are often donated to animal-related charities.
If a shower belongs to a club, they may record points earned from their horses' placings for year-end awards. There are many clubs that hold periodic—often monthly—photo or online shows that allow members the opportunity to earn points for their horses that may be applied to end-of-the-year and cumulative awards.
NAN cards are also sought after. These pink and green cards allow a particular horse to enter the North American Nationals (NAN), a yearly show organized by the North American Model Horse Show Association (NAMHSA). The show and the qualification cards carry a lot of prestige in the hobby world - a model which is "NAN Q-ed" or "NAN qualified" goes up in value. In the UK the Model Equine Championships (MECs) have a similar concept to NAN and have been running since 1998.
Postal showing was the original method of showing, where a horse's details were sent to a judge and places were awarded by rolling dice. Now postal showing is more usually the preserve of performance disciplines such as racing or dressage, and the model events often mirror real events. Places may be awarded by pairing a model with a real participant whose luck it shares, or in the case of racing, with reference to a sophisticated handicapping system.
Props and Tack
Hobbyists also use props, tack and riders. It is important that props and tack are in scale to the model for added realism.
Props are anything which might enhance a scene, such as dogs, jumps, trees, trail elements, backgrounds and fences. Some classes such as jumping, roping, and trail require the use of props.
Dolls range from pre-packaged jointed dolls sold by Breyer, to one-of-a-kind creations by skilled dollmakers. They currently are optional for performance showing in the United States, elsewhere, however, they are required.
Hobby tack covers the entire range of real horse tack, from numnahs to full saddle sets; from simple barn halters to extravagant multiple horse harness hitches; and from stable blankets to Arabian horse costumes hand-stitched down to the tiniest detail. It is made out of a variety of materials- leather hide, leather lace, satin and grosgrain ribbon, jewelry chain, and various fabrics. Hardware can be made by hand out of wire, or cast metal such as pewter and white bronze. Much research goes into making high-quality tack, with some tack makers accumulating respectable reference libraries of online image folders and books. Tack can be made from scratch, or using kits. Knowledge of leather stamping, carving, dying, and sewing are all skills the model horse tackmaker uses in his or her craft.
In the pursuit of realism, many hobbyists also research and give their models pedigrees and names. Pedigree assignment—commonly abbreviated "PA"—is a fun way of learning about different breeds and creating "progeny". Some pedigrees are researched from real horses or other models. Model horse breeders may offer their horse's parentage for a nominal fee and usually issue a certificate to the "foal"'s owner. Some clubs keep records of real mares and their open years for members who want to make sure that the model they PA from living parents does not have the same dam and foaling year as a model belonging to another member. In keeping with the hobby's attempt to maintain realism, collectors assigning pedigrees to models usually try to use only years that a real mare did not have a foal, or, in the case of scarce breeds, a year that she had a foal that was gelded (and thus could not reproduce).
- Fallen Leaves: Model Horse News, Forums, and Wiki Get the latest model horse news as well as sharing information with artist and collectors from around the world.
- Model Horse Artist Gallery A site that features many artists in the hobby past and present.
- North American Model Horse Showers Association
- International Model Equine Hobbyists Association Largest and oldest online model horse photo showing club.
- Stone Horse Reference Site A reference site for Peter Stone model horses.