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Model horse collectors gather at Wilson College for show

February 10, 2001|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Model horse collectors gather at Wilson College for show



CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - As a horse show, this one was cleaner, quieter and absent the familiar odor normally associated with the big domestic animals.

Most of the horses on display by the hundreds Saturday at a model horse show at Wilson College were made of plastic and a few were made of china, but that didn't dampen the enthusiasm of their owners which seemed no less intense than if their horses were made of flesh, hair and bone.

Most model horses can be bought in hobby or toy stores for $20 to $150, said Nicole Hertzog, a Wilson College senior, the show's coordinator and a collector with 250 models.

Name-brand U.S. manufacturers such as Breyer Animal Creations and The Peter Stone Co. provide most of the horses bought as toys for children or by collectors, hobbyists said Saturday.

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A company usually creates a mold, often based on a real animal, and produces the models in limited numbers. Some models can run for eight to 10 years with a different color scheme for each year.

Like snowflakes, each horse of a particular mold is a little different because different employees hand paint them at the factory, Hertzog said.

Slight differences such as paint variants, rarity and overall condition are what win blue ribbons, she said.

Saturday's show was a regional event. First- and second-place winners qualified for the North American Model Horse Showers Association Show to be held in Lexington, Ky., in July.

"There will be more than 250 showers in Lexington," said Jane Wagner, co-chairman of the national show.

A collector for 12 years, Wagner said collecting is a good hobby for people who like horses, but who can't afford to buy a real one.

"You do a lot of research about breeds," she said.

Judging covers several classes. In the halter class, judges check for conformity, correct breed representation, paint quality and its value as a collectable.

In the performance class, contestants try to create a mental image or photograph of a horse in action at a show. It could be a jump, calf- roping, barrel-roping or similar rodeo event, dressage or, in one case, a pair of horses pulling a Civil War-era caisson which was created by its owner.

A quick look among Saturday's 46 entrants showed that the hobby attracts more women than men.

"You don't see many women collecting tractors and trains," Hertzog said.

Technology is changing the hobby, Wagner said. The Internet and e-Bay are driving down the prices of high-end, rare models because they are becoming more available over e-Bay, the ubiquitous electronic auction network.

"Sometimes, the more common stuff can go really high if somebody sees it on e-Bay and wants one," she said. "We used to do all our trading in magazines."

Margaret Suchow, owner of Adirondack Stable, a model horse shop near Saratoga Springs, N.Y., had the only booth Saturday that sold new models. Suchow had about two dozen horses lined up for sale in her booth. The least expensive was $40; others were as high as $150.

She built a special building to house her collection of more than 2,000 models because of fear of fire.

"They're made of plastic and plastic gives off poisonous fumes when it burns. The fumes could kill me," she said.

Across the room, Steve Gristick, 44, of Harrisburg, Pa., set up his collection of Breyer "Decorator" horse models, painted in brilliant, glitzy colors. The company made only 20 different molds for a few years in the early 1960s. Gristick has 19. He needs one to complete his collection, but has never been able to find it.

He estimates the value of his collection at $20,000.

Ann Michaels, 43, of Pittsburgh, set up her display of 19 Breyer Decorator horses next to Gristick.

Gristick and Michaels have chatted over the Internet several times but this was the first time they met in person.

"She has the horse I'm looking for and I own the one she needs," Gristick said.

There was no talk about a deal between them.

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