Breyer Horses

Warning: If you already know everything about Breyers, skip the intro and go to the links at the bottom. Or if you don't want to learn about model horses, escape now!
Everyone else, enjoy.
Note: Breyer website currently under construction, so only some of these links work.

If you know me, then you know I love animals. And you also know that I am deathly allergic to animals, particularly cats, dogs, and horses. Thus, as a child, I turned my attention to collecting replicas of my favorite animals as a substitute for the real thing.

But I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I received my very first Breyer horse, a Traditional size brown pinto Shetland pony I named Danny. Breyer Modeling Co specializes in making some of the most realistic model horses in the world. Breyer horses come in 4 different sizes - Traditional is the largest, then Classic, followed by the Paddock Pals, and Stablemates as the smallest. Traditional is by far and away the most popular, so this size has the widest variety of different models. There's a model to fit everyone's taste; most models are tailored to one specific breed, everything from
Arabian... to Clydesdale...

to mule.

And even cute
mare and foal
pairs such as
these two!
AND, every year Breyer produces these models in different colors! In addition, Breyer artists create an average of 3-5 brand new models each year. Since a Traditional size model typically runs about $25-$35 at a toy store, this can obviously become a very expensive hobby! In fact, it's nearly impossible to buy EVERY new horse that comes out, so hobbyists have to choose carefully which models they truly want. In addition to the regular run model horses, Breyer also produces very limited quantities of special run horses for different events. Often only somewhere between 1,500-5,000 of these special editions will be produced, which isn't much considering Breyers are sold worldwide. Usually these special runs will be available only through a particular dealer, or only for a certain time. Breyer has made special runs to commemorate many events, ranging from the company's 50th anniversary to the coming of the Summer Olympics to the new Seabiscuit movie.


But the fun doesn't end just with collecting! Naturally, people who shared this crazy pasttime of collecting plastic horses began to gather together, and soon formed clubs where they could share their love of equines with others. I used to belong to the Northwest Breyer Horse Club, which started up around 1990 and was based in Washington State, until it dissolved around 2005. And of course it didn't take much longer for someone to realize - hey, if we can show REAL horses, why can't we show MODEL horses? And there began the model horse show.
Now, there are two types of shows - photo shows and live shows. Photo shows involve, as the name implies, photos of model horses. A good photo shows all of the horse and has an appropriately scaled, while not too distracting, background. For example, placing the horse out on a grassy lawn would NOT be a good photo, since real grass is much too large to look realistic with a model horse. A good photo would show the horse standing on fine gravel, fine dirt, or perhaps cut grass. Some people like to use appropriately sized pictures, posters, or paintings behind the horse for background; others prefer to keep the background as blank as possible. As long as it looks realistic, it works.
So, what do you DO with a photo of a model horse? Well, most photo shows have three categories of classes for the model horse to show in: breed, color, and gender. So if, for example, you had a picture of an Appaloosa mare, you would enter her in the Appaloosa breed class, the appaloosa color class, and the mare gender class. But what is the judge looking for in a show like this? In a photo show, the quality of the photo is important - it should be sharp and clear, show all of the horse in focus, have a realistic background. And the horse itself must be in very good condition - there should be NO visible marks or rubs or scratches on the model. In the breed class, the judge will be comparing the conformation of the model to the conformation expected of a real horse of that breed. In a color class, the judge bases the decision on the realistic look of the coloring on the horse. And in the gender class, well, the judge is just looking to make sure that the model matches the common physical characteristics of its gender.
A live show is a little bit different. For one thing, the judge can see ALL angles of the model horse, so the model must be essentially perfect. Not all Breyer horses are created equal; even horses that are supposed to be identical will show some differences due to the process by which they are made. Some horses come out with factory flaws, such as accidentally painted/unpainted areas, uneven seams, etc. And the shading and coloration often vary from model to model, with some variations being more pleasing than others. So the first and most important criterion in a live horse show is the overall condition of the model. Also important is cleanliness; a real horse wouldn't go into the show ring with dirt on him, so a model horse shouldn't go in with dust! Other than that, the live show is judged in much the same way as a photo show, with the same classes and all.
But all I've talked about so far are the regular classes, known as "halter classes" since they don't require putting any tack on the model. Yes, that's right, I said tack. In the spirit of being even MORE like the real horse world, there are very talented people out there who make saddles, bridles, harnesses, and anything else you can think of, all on a scale for model horses. Classes which require tack are called performance classes; common categories in performance are Western, English, dressage, jumping, and so on. Since Breyer produces such a wide variety of models, there's basically a model that can imitate anything a real horse would do! Performance setups can get just as elaborate as the owner wants to make them. In photos and in live shows, performance setups usually involve other props also - besides the tack, there's usually a rider to go along with it, and background props such as fences, flowerpots, obstacles and jumps, anything that can be thought of.
Regular Breyer horses can be used for performance classes; as I said, there's usually at least one model that can do the job. But sometimes an owner wants a particular horse in a particular pose that Breyer just doesn't have. Now introduce: the art of customizing. Customizing involves taking a regular Breyer horse, sanding all of the paint off, and then changing the horse in whatever way desired. Most customizing involves simply repainting the horse; more radical customizing can include (but is not limited to!) repositioning the horse (usually moving head, legs, tail), removing the plastic mane/tail and giving it a "real" hair mane/tail, and also repainting. Some artists are even good enough to fix a model that's been broken; it's possible to sculpt a new ear/leg and attach it onto the model. Customizing has become so popular that there are now separate shows for customized (CM) horses and original finish (OF) horses, which are horses that have not been changed at ALL since they came out of the Breyer factory. And customized horses, since they are all one of a kind, are considerably more expensive than your regular run of the mill Breyer horse. A traditional size custom from a well-known artist could easily run into hundreds of dollars, even if all that's changed is the paint job. And, of course, there's also those fun, NOT for show purposes customs, like the one below I saw for sale on E-bay!

Can you see anything besides
a weird paint job here?
If not, look again!

There happens to be a
killer whale alongside
this little Stablemate!

So those are the ins and outs of the Breyer horse world. I myself have been collecting seriously since about 1990. Since I've spent most of that time being a poor starving student, I've had to choose carefully how I spent my limited funds. Every year I try to get as many of the special runs as I can. Then, from the regular line of Breyers, there's two recurring models that I always buy - the Limited Edition, which is a horse that will only be produced by the company during that year, and the Hall of Fame Edition (used to be called the Commemorative Edition) which is limited to 10,000 pieces. Then I'll usually buy any brand new models, or any of the regular runs which I think is just too beautiful not to have. In this way, I've amassed a collection of around 300 horses (I haven't really counted recently ;-).

Here's the 2003 Hall of Famer
Strapless, #598, a famous hunter mare.
This model also happens
to be a new sculpture
for the year!
(although you can hardly see her
from this camera angle!)

And here's the 2003 Limited
Edition, Zips Chocolate Chip, #1197,
a famous Quarter Horse stallion.
This particular model was only
introduced a few years ago
and has rapidly become very popular!

I haven't really gotten into the customizing or performance aspects of model horses yet, mostly due to a lack of time and funds. That's something I hope I'll get to start once I'm finally done with school (if THAT ever happens!) I haven't even been making it to many live shows recently. But I do still photo show.


As promised, for those of you who already know about Breyers, here's some useful links I've found over the years:
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