BY LAUREN MAULDIN
Every summer before the hunter/jumper crowd flocks to the Kentucky Horse Park for the Kentucky Summer series, a group of folks comes to show with a very different kind of string—model horses!
BreyerFest, a weekend long celebration of all things model horses, is a hobby convention unlike any other. Events include model horse shows, contests, equine entertainers, exclusive shopping, celebrity guest horses and fun for all ages. Each year, Breyer invites the real horses that inspire their models. VP of marketing, Stephanie Macejko, rode leopard appaloosa, Lil’ Rocky Rocker, in the opening ceremonies and meet and greet. “He’s mobbed by kids who recognize his leopard Appy color, and have his Breyer replica. One little girl saw him and nearly burst into tears. ‘I’ve been waiting to meet him MY WHOLE LIFE!’ she exclaimed. She was six years old!” Stephanie laughed.
The event isn’t just for kids though. Serious hobbyists drive from all across the country loaded up with thousands dollars of exquisite model horses for resale, competition and Breyer’s official contests. The model horse hobby, and BreyerFest itself, is about more than fancy collectibles. Hobbyists are true artists, crafting amazing detail into miniature horses that range from 1:9 to 1:32 scale and sometimes even smaller. These are not toys we’re talking about, but rather works of art.
Which brings us to perhaps the most expensive model horse of all time—this year’s auction Alborozo.
Towards the end of the weekend, serious collectors gather for the most exclusive shopping of the event, the BreyerFest Live Auction. “Each model in the auction is a test color utilizing a variety of production techniques and colorways,” Stephanie explained about the special model horses offered. While all Breyer models are handpainted, the ones in the auction are given special attention. This increases their value as a model show horse, but also as a piece of curated art.
Breyer brings in a top auctioneer from the Keeneland sales to handle the auction, so the atmosphere feels as thrilling as a Thoroughbred sale. “He always jokes that ounce for ounce, at just 1.3 hands high, our models are just as valuable as the live horses he’s auctioned,” Stephanie said.
The final horse of the auction, a dappled sabino buckskin “Alborozo” model, was expected to go high. The mold was debuted at BreyerFest 2008 as a super limited edition, and Breyer destroyed the mold after the event so no more could be created. “We’ve kept a few blank models on hand, as we said we’d do, to utilize occasionally for the BreyerFest auction with unique colorways,” Stephanie said. Even ten years later, the Alborozo sculpture is hugely popular with hobbyists. “The atmosphere was electric. Everyone knew that the previous record was going to fall, it was just a question of how much higher this one would go,” model horse blogger Jennifer Buxton said of the auction. She was right. The bidding was intense, captured in video by Fabian Rodriguez:
Yes, that’s a $22,000 model horse. Yes, that’s more than my real horse cost (really if I’m counting, all of my real horses combined), but model horse experts say that’s the wrong way to look at his pricetag.
“You sure could buy a $22,000 real horse, but would it be the best horse in the world? Because that $22,000 model horse is without a doubt the best plastic model horse ever produced. Incredible color, incredible mold. His real horse counterpart would be well into the six figures,” lifelong hobbyist Erin Corbett explained. Jennifer agreed, adding, “Please compare top end to top end, not top end to bottom.”
I guess if I try to compare my real horse to a model, he’d be much more of a $40 shelf variety that I still ogle over when I get my niece gifts at the local toy store. Although my horse is super green, so maybe he’s unpainted? Which I guess just proves that trying to compare model horses to real horses is impossible. Their similarity ends with inspiration.
Because these models, $22,000 ones included, are really works of art for collectors to cherish and enjoy. And besides, it all helps real horses in the end. Each year, the BreyerFest auction proceeds benefit a variety of child and animal charities. “This year, beneficiaries include PATH, Old Friends, 4H East and West Roundups, The Cloud Foundation, ASPCA, HSUS and several local organizations in New Jersey and Kentucky,” Stephanie said. “Over the years, Breyer and BreyerFest have donated well over $1,000,000 in cash to organizations to help rehome racehorses, foster abused or homeless animals, support sick children, fulfill wishes for the terminally ill and more.” Those are big numbers for a big hobby community that puts a lot of joy into the world.
Though my energies and finances are spent on real horses these days, I have a handful of Breyers left. I like looking at them on my shelf. They remind me of my time as a kid training my “Misty” on worn down circles on my carpet. I admire the artistry behind them, all of the people who have devoted countless hours to sculpting, painting, and making miniature tack.
None of my models cost $22,000, but then again I’ve never even spent five figures on a horse. I sure like watching the six-figure horses go around the hunter ring though, even if I can’t afford them. If I ever got to look at a five figure model horse, I bet I’d enjoy that just as much.