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Collecting Model Horses

Updated on September 18, 2015
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Jeanne Grunert is a full-time freelance writer, novelist, and garden communicator. She lives and works on a 17-acre farm in Virginia.

One of my model horses - CollectA Lipizzaner stallion.
One of my model horses - CollectA Lipizzaner stallion.
Some of my own model horses in a diorama setting.
Some of my own model horses in a diorama setting.

Collecting Model Horses: It's Not Just For Kids

I collect model horses. Breyer horses. What is a Breyer horse, you might ask? Breyer horses are where most people start in the model horse collecting hobby. Breyer horses are plastic statues of horses ranging from the tiny 1" tall "Mini Whinnies" to large "Traditional" size statues about 9" tall. Many little girls grew up playing with Breyer horses, but some never outgrew them. I'm one of those crazy folks who never outgrew them. I received my first model horses in 1974. I had a small collection that I loved to play with. My collection at that time included a Hartland Indian pony, a Hong Kong knock-off copy of the Breyer Western Prancing Horse, and several small rubber and plastic horses. Then two magical things happened. My sister Mary had a Breyer palomino Family Arabian Stallion that she kept under glass in the barrister bookcase in our bedroom. She prized that horse model so much. It was a gift from our Uncle Clarence, who himself had loved to ride horses back in the 1930s. He was one of our favorite uncles, and he gave Mary that horse model. One day in 1974, perhaps seeing my longing gaze resting on the horse model, or perhaps because by that time Mary was in high school and fast outgrowing her own obsession with horses, she gave him to me. Happiness! Joy! What a treasure! Soon, my brother gave me the "new" Stablemate series of small model horses, and many, many more horse models followed. But unlike my friends, instead of giving up horses for boys in high school, I immersed myself more and more in the model horse hobby. Here's an overview of the model horse hobby. I bet you never even knew the hobby existed. Well, if you have a collection of Breyer horses or other model horses, collecting horse model isn't just for kids. It's a sophisticated and growing hobby, and one which I love.

(All photos accompanying this article were taken by me, Jeanne Grunert, and are of model horses in my private collection.)

About the Model Horse Hobby

Horses statues have been found in ancient graves, Egyptian tombs, and ancient monuments. There's something about the beauty and majesty of the horse that intrigues people around the world. But the model horse hobby was born quite by accident.

In the 1950s, the Breyer Molding Company, a Midwestern United States plastics manufacturing company, was tasked with casting horse-shaped clocks. When the company commissioning the clocks went out of business, Breyer was stuck with hundreds of plastic horses. They decided to package them in boxes and sell them through Woolworth's stores as toys. The horse models sold out quickly, and demand grew for the horse toys. Throughout the late 1950s and 1960s, Western television shows captured the imagination of children everywhere, and horse toys were quite popular. Breyer became Breyer Animal Creations and produced toy horses in realistic colors as well as livestock, dog and cat figurines.

One thing that always set Breyer horse models apart from others is their attention to detail on the horse statues. Horse toys were typically childish things in garish colors, but Breyer focused on realism. Breyer horse model lovers can find realistic representations of many of their favorite horse breeds as well as famous horses such as Man O'War, Secretariat and even fictional horses like The Black Stallion.

In the 1990s, Breyer was sold to international toy maker Reeves International. Today, Breyer continues to produce beautiful horse models and has added resin, china, and crystal models to their line for adult collectors. The annual convention for model horse collectors, called Breyerfest, is held in Lexington, Kentucky each July at the International Horse Park and attracts thousands of young and old alike. Breyers are available by mail order or in toy and tack stores nationwide.

Horse Models

Here are some current Breyer horses loved by collectors and other types of horse models. Do you think these are just children's toys or beautiful collectibles?

Model Horse Publications

Model horse collectors love the internet, but they also love books about the hobby. One such book is The Model Horse Quarterly. I edit it, and publish it four times a year. It includes many color pictures and articles each quarter and is available for purchase from Blurb.com

Model Horse Props, Dioramas and Shows

Model horse collectors and dollhouse miniaturists or model train enthusiasts have a lot in common. Model horse collectors amass quite the collection of Breyer, Hartland, The Lakeshore Collection, Josef, Hagen-Renaker, Collecta, Schleich and other brands of plastic and china models. They also love to customize model horses. Customizing model horses means taking an original finish horse model and repainting it into another color, adding a hair mane and tail, or even changing its position. Customized models are unique and brand new works of art.

Breyer horse collectors and model horse collectors also like making miniature saddles and bridles, called tack, as well as model horse props such as jumps, barns, and stables. Sometimes very skilled collectors make elaborate dioramas. They use such dioramas for display purposes, like a miniature dollhouse, as well as in model horse shows.

Model horse shows are held in person or via the internet. In-person model horse shows are called live shows. Collectors bring their horse models, tack and accessories to a central location such as a VFW hall or even someone's house, set up their models according to the rules used by 'real' horse and breed associations, and enter them in classes judged for realism. Horse models compete in breed classes, color classes, and "performance" classes. A performance class is actually a diorama creating a scene the horse would actually perform at a horse show. Horses may be shown in performance classes such as jumping, equitation, dressage, carriage driving, cattle roping and more. Classes can get quite creative as people try to come up with a logical explanation as to why a horse might be grazing or rearing in a performance class!

Photo shows are shows in which people take photographs of their horses in dioramas and settings and submit the photos for judging. Many photo shows are held over the internet. Show organizations such as Totally Online Photo Shows (TOPSA) are fun ways for collectors to compete in photo shows on the internet in a friendly way.

Tell us what you think about collecting model horses.

Do you think collecting Breyer horses is just for kids? Or does making miniature dioramas and all the other craft-related aspects transform it into a worthwhile hobby for adults?

Plastic Model Horses

Breyer isn't the only company making plastic model horses. In the 1990s, Peter Stone, son of Breyer's founder, opened a competing company called Stone Model Horses. Stone Horses are very beautiful and realistic, too. Stone also offers a custom program in which collectors choose the base model and the final horse is painted to their specifications.

Other brands of plastic model horses include Hartland, Marx, Schleich, Safari and Collecta. This is a picture I took of one of my Collecta model horses, the Lipizzaner stallion

China Model Horses

China model horses are also quite popular among collectors. Hagen-Renaker, Beswick, Josef and Napco are some of the older brands available. A new line of model horses called The Lakeshore Collection was recently introduced by a fellow hobbyist, Cindy Neuhaus. These feature beautiful, lifelike porcelain horse models.

Artist Resin Model Horses

Artist resin model horses are original sculptures cast in limited editions in resin. Resin casting is inexpensive and picks up the sculptural details in the original creation. The first hobby resin cast models appeared in the late 1980s and early 1990s and are credited to Carol Williams and another hobbyists, Karen Grimm, who offered limited edition artist resins custom painted. Today, some of the hobby's finest works of art are artist resin horse models. Artist resin horse models are sold either unpainted or painted. Unpainted horse models must be sanded and prepped for painting. They are then painted into the desired color using oil paints, acrylics, pastel dust or a variety of techniques.

Learn More About Model Horses

Learn more about the model horse hobby, buy and sell model horses and model horse props, or find out more about collecting from these popular model horse hobby websites.

Have Fun with Model Horses

The model horse hobby offers so many outlets for your creativity and imagination. For those who simply enjoy the collecting experience, amassing a collection of horse models of your favorite brands, breeds, or artists is a lot of fun. I know I love to complete "sets" of my favorite Breyers - collecting the stallion, mare and foal for each color ever issued of the "Family Arabian" set, for example, or collecting every color ever made of my favorite models, like the Cantering Welsh Pony. If you love to paint, try your hand at customizing. Start with inexpensive plastic models and have fun! Leathercrafting and beading to make tack, woodworking to make stables and props, photography, even writing...there are many outlets for expression as part of the model horse hobby. Dust off your Breyers and start surfing the net. Connect with other collectors and participate in one of the many hobby groups. But watch out - like potato chips, you can't have just one model horse. Once you start collecting, you'll be hooked!

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