This weekend is Breyerfest here in Lexington, an event that promotional banners at our airport have heralded for at least three weeks. 

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For those of you unfamiliar with Breyerfest is, it’s a celebration centered on Breyer horses, plastic models that represent famous horses and various breeds and disciplines. (There are also some nonequine animals.) Attendees watch riding demonstrations; participate in exclusive raffles, shopping events, contests; and meet the horses that inspired popular models, among other activities.

In the mid- ’90s my family (including my beloved horse, Icy) traveled from our hometown in Central Virginia to the U.S Pony Clubs Championships/Festival for combined training. One night, as we were headed to the hotel room, there were a curious number of people lining the halls of the hotel, browsing Breyer models for sale in the common area and even in sellers’ rooms. The sheer number and variety of models was dizzying.

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We had stumbled upon Breyerfest’s hallowed swap meet. And while we clearly weren’t as dedicated as these collectors, I’ll admit that we had (have?) dozens of Breyers in my childhood home. Some are mine, some are my sister’s, some are my mom’s. Maybe you had a few as a horse-crazy child as well.

These models may only be cast at a 1:9 scale or smaller, but I think they can provide light-hearted perspective on life with the real ones. In honor of Breyerfest this weekend, here are a few things I’ve learned from cellulose acetate horses:

Be mindful of who handles your herd. A few of my prized Breyers—namely, Phar Lap (God rest his soul)—suffered injuries from a phenomenon I’ll call “the simulated gallop.” This maneuver involves crawling along the floor, hands and knees, bearing weight on the plastic horse with one grimy little-kid hand and creating the illusion of the steed covering vast stretches of ground between the sofa and the TV*

I was a bit of a perfectionist as a kid and kept my horses in a neat display row out of harm’s way (maybe not entirely surprising—I did, in fact, grow up to become an editor). But several of my horses’ legs snapped at the hands of my sweet sister and the simulated gallop. As one would expect, she’s much more grown-up and responsible now, and I’d trust her implicitly with any of my horses, live or plastic.

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The acquisition of tack and gear can become all-consuming. Any spare time that I would’ve had to get mixed up with riffraff (though unlikely, because I lived on a hilltop 15 minutes away from the closest suburban sidewalk) as a middle-schooler was absorbed by scouring tack catalogs for miniature saddles, blankets, leg wraps, tack trunks, or jumps, or gazing at the same on a trip to the tack store. To this day, one whiff of saddle leather, and I’m back at Richmond Saddlery, standing on my tiptoes and craning my neck (I was much shorter then) to see whatever Breyer stuff they had stowed near the polo wraps and the gamgee.

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Now, many years later, the daily inbox deals and catalogs arriving in the mail present a constant temptation to buy stuff for my real-live horse, and deciding what a “need” is and what is a “want” is a very real thing. (Oh, if only I could get Happy a one-size-fits all saddle and blingy bridle—I hear that’s “in” right now—for the cost of their teensy Breyer counterparts).

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Sometimes you simply make do with what you have. One of my friends when we were growing up had an enviable and elaborate Breyer barn and stable setup in a playroom. She had something like 100 Breyers, and they were organized by breed and model, and I believe she even showed them! (I’m still not exactly sure what that involved, but I expect it was a lot of work back in the day of 35-mm cameras and snail mail.) Incidentally, she’s grown up to be a successful Warmblood sport horse breeder with impeccable stables, so she’s found her own life lessons in Breyers.

Some things, like the inflexibility of Brenda’s or Barbie’s ankles for proper equitation, are not ideal, but you make do.

My collection was less expansive, though perfectly acceptable. We had several live horses—not to mention children—to feed. So, in my own home, I vaguely recall Brenda Breyer riding both standard Breyers and the odd plastic Barbie horse. The latter, a hollow palomino mare with seam down the middle of her blaze and a Brazilian blowout platinum mane and tail, would sometimes split in half spontaneously, so there was Scotch tape involved. I’d host my own live horse shows with friends and my little sister, and concessions, manned by Barbie and Ken, were available nearby at the Barbie McDonalds.

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Some things, like the inflexibility of Brenda’s or Barbie’s ankles for proper equitation, are not ideal, but you make do. On the other hand, some horses aren’t built for certain jobs. One of my earliest models, Pacer, is propped up nearby on my desk. This model—the only one that’s not packed up for posterity at the moment**—is my favorite, probably because my favorite mare’s name was Pacer. (Never mind the Pacer Breyer model has a sheath and, like many stallion model horses, the faintest suggestion of testicles).

Note that I said propped up—the model has always had a difficult time standing on its own. Leaning Pacer (and the worn paint on her his ears) is an apt illustration that some horses are suited for endeavors besides that for which they were bred.

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An enterprising young equestrienne might’ve call in reinforcements in the form of modeling clay to help Pacer stand. I just kept/keep propping him up against nearby vertical surfaces. But for obvious reasons, I do not recommend using Sculpey clay to turn your reluctant jumper into a Grand Prix horse. Also avoid retouching any live horse’s ears with paint, acrylic or otherwise.

Don’t poke at weird protrusions on a horse’s body. I have a pretty gray jumping Stone Horse (the models designed by Peter Stone that became popular in the mid-90s). Incidentally, the model, who resembles Icy, is landing stylishly from a stone wall, to which he (also confirmed male) was attached via a peg built into the underside of his belly (With millimeters to spare, he cleared it!). This model is signed in purple ink by Peter Stone himself, so imagine my dismay when the curious 9-year-old I was babysitting poked at that thing till it broke off inside the horse’s barrel. The peg now rattles around inside the model, making him a tiny, expensive piñata, and he must be propped up on the jump to make it look like he’s jumping. And though it is partially convincing that a model horse could be jumping without a peg attachment to a polymer jump, he does so with a lilt that makes him look like he’s had a fifth of bourbon ***

Poke at a real horse? Well, he/she’s probably not going to break, but you might get yourself kicked.

Cross-country jumps can really hurt. So, that heavy polymer jump with the empty peg hole? I’ve dropped that thing on my foot about a zillion times (reason #26 it’s in storage). Resultant pain is probably not akin to my dressage trainer’s gigantic Warmblood mare stepping on my foot and then pivoting, but it’s still painful in its own way. And while I (touch wood) haven’t had a close up encounter with a cross-country fence in a few decades, I do recall the bruises.

And, finally:

The adage “Horses are like potato chips … you can’t have just one” applies to more than just flesh and blood horses. And know that one day when, God-willing, I have my own property, Happy will have an equine friend. Or maybe three. Because horses—the real-live breathing, snorting, nickering kind—enhance our lives and keep us grounded.

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What’s your Breyer history? Any fun memories to share? 

*Or other living room landmarks. Best done while saying “ba-da-dum, ba-da-dum” in a canter rhythm and adding whinnies for effect.
**Falling far behind the fact that I’m in my late 30s and will have no more than one plastic horse model on display in my day-to-day, which is my own personal limit.
***I don’t recommend giving any horse, real or plastic, a fifth of bourbon. Never, never waste bourbon.

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