Friday, May. 24, 2024

Breyer Portrait Horses: From IRL To On Your Shelf

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To Buck Davidson’s daughter Ellie, the Breyer horses in the stable she shares with her older sister, Aubrey, are all the same.  She refers to all model and real-life horses by the name “Prize” and treats them alike, including the bay horse with a white hind sock that will have bigger meaning when she is old enough to understand its identity.

It’s Ballynoe Castle RM, or “Reggie,” the Irish Sport Horse who, with her father, became the U.S. Eventing Association’s highest point-scoring horse of all time in 2014. Reggie was made into Breyer model in 2019, though his release planned at Breyerfest in 2020 was canceled due to COVID-19.

Both girls were too young to understand the significance of their resin Reggie when he joined their other Breyer horses. They play with him like they do with their other toys.

Breyer Reggie side by side

Ballynoe Castle RM, from real-life at the 2014 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event to a popular Breyer model in 2019. Chronicle Archives Photo (left)/Photo Courtesy Of Reeves International (right)

“It was just a horse in a box, and the box got trashed just like every other box,” Davidson said. “Reggie is alongside her other Breyer horses that might be missing an ear, might have some Sharpies written on them.”

Davidson learned about Breyer’s desire to make Reggie into a model from the caretaker at Carl and Cassie Segal’s farm in New Jersey, where the gelding was living with his owners in retirement. Davidson was impressed to learn how much background work the toy company put into creating a lifelike model of Reggie, which not only included speaking with him as the rider but meeting the horse in real life.

“They went out and spent a day with Reggie in the field and took pictures of Reggie,” said Davidson. “They wanted to get to know him on a personal level. It’s a lot more involved than I knew, but they really wanted to know his personality. They wanted to make it as authentic as possible.”

So how did Reggie go from flesh and bone to paint and resin?

Many factors go into deciding which real horses and ponies become immortalized as Breyer models, said Stephanie Macejko, vice president of marketing for Reeves International Inc., the manufacturer of Breyer. The process can start with recommendations from breed associations, emails to the company, or its own research. The toy company prioritizes representing a broad cross-section of breeds and riding disciplines when it selects real-life equines to make into new models, Macejko said, “whether it’s a horse that’s a show champion, a Kentucky Derby winner, or perhaps a horse that happens to be a real solid citizen.”

“Years ago, we had a Morgan, ‘Flash,’ who had been a Pony Club horse for 30 years and given kids their first lessons, first shows,” she said. “He was just a phenomenal school horse that touched a lot of kids lives.”

The company typically releases a number of new horses each year, some in January, some in their mid-year brochure, and others at Breyerfest, held at the Kentucky Horse Park every summer. While the company might come out with eight different horses created in the likeness of a real horse, known as “portrait horses,” usually one or two are brand new sculptures while, for the others, an existing model will be painted differently to represent a real horse. That was done in the case of Reggie, who was made using Susan Carlton Sifton’s existing “Show Jumping Warmblood,” mold #579. Charlotte Dujardin’s Olympic dressage mount Valegro is an example of a mold made from scratch.

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Sculpting Breyer Valegro

Breyer horse sculptor Brigitte Eberl visited Valegro at his home yard in Gloucestershire, England, to meet the dressage star in person and create a sculpture of him. Photo Courtesy Of Reeves International

“The first thing that we do is we talk to the owner and discuss our vision for what we would like this particular model, then the pose the horse might be in, and come to agreement about what will show off the horse best,” Macejko said. “For Valegro, they did the canter pirouette, which wasn’t represented in the Breyer line. It was one of the many things that Valegro does really well; there isn’t much he doesn’t do very well.”

Next sketches are drawn, a wire armature is made, and clay is put on the armature. In the case of Valegro, a team from Breyer went to part-owner Carl Hester’s yard in Gloucestershire, England, to meet the gelding in person.

“That helps the artist capture the horse’s expressions,” Macejko said. While there, they talked with Hester and Dujardin about “Blueberry,” and then they began creating.

“My artist brought the clay there and was sculpting while she was on site,” Macejko said. “They spent two days there; that was really fun.”

Breyers Stephanie Macejko with Valegro

Breyer’s Stephanie Macejko got a chance to pose with Valegro during their field study in England. Photo Courtesy Of Reeves International

Once the artists finalize the sculpture, the company creates an injection mold tool, which is used to make two halves of each model. Mold material, called cellulose acetate, is heated to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, and injected into the tool.

“That’s where it starts to cure for about a minute, then the two halves of the horses are removed from the tool and put on cooling boards,” she said.

The two parts then go into a soaking mixture.  “Then, essentially what happens is the edges of the two halves in the soaking mixture become a little bit softer, and assemblers bond the two halves of the horses together,” Macejko said.

From there, the assembled model is buffed, scraped and washed to prepare it for painting. When they are done, it’s impossible to see that it began as two pieces. Each model is hand painted with meticulous attention to detail.

“From the undercoat of a golden bay all the way to shading the darker areas of that bay, the shell-colored hooves and the grey hooves, all of those details are hand done,” Macejko said.

Breyer Hand Airbrushing

Each model is airbrushed, and then small details are added by hand with a fine paint brush afterward. Photo Courtesy Of Reeves International

The process of making a new model takes about a year to complete, starting with a three- to four-month period when the artists draw the horse and sculpt the model. The job of building the injection model tool takes about five months and involves making sure the tool is molding properly. In all, it takes a year and a half or more to reach the market.

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Turning real horses into models is also an opportunity to tell important stories, Macejko said, like that of Amberley Snyder, a barrel racer who returned to her sport after being paralyzed in a car accident. Breyer has just made a model of her black Quarter Horse ATP Power to recognize her resilience and ability to come back from a life-changing situation.

“Her whole attitude is such an inspiration that we felt it was a story we really wanted to tell,” Macejko said. “The fact that she is able to get back in the saddle and trust her hoses and they trust her, I think is phenomenal; it helps highlight the human horse bond,” Macejko said.

The company has also used models to raise awareness about issues facing wild mustangs, starting with a model of the stallion Cloud, who has been featured on PBS, and continuing with his offspring.

As for the real-life equines that are the most popular as models, it tends to be horses that competed in the Olympics.

Breyer 1756_TR_Valegro_Set_HR

Valegro’s finished model. Photo Courtesy Of Reeves International

“Race horses in general tend to be the highest sellers as far as volume is concerned, especially because we recently had a Triple Crown winner in American Pharoah,” she said. “Horses that have a long career, like Valegro, those horses also do extremely well for us; they’ve been in the public eye for a long time and develop a following.”

That was the case with Reggie as well, who developed a big following in the U.S. eventing community over his years in the sport. Not only was he a top horse for Davidson but then took his groom, Katheen Murray, through training level eventing and down the aisle at her wedding.

“He was famous for being an all-around good guy,” Davidson said “As much a part of the story of him winning was his personality, the horse, and the animal that he was. Everybody loved him.”

Davidson has two models of Reggie—one that remains in a box on a shelf in his house in Pennsylvania, and the other that his daughters play with—a tribute to the horse who died in 2021.

Ballynoe Castle RM in packaging_FINAL

Davidson’s longtime partner “Reggie” is immortalized as a Breyer model. Photo Courtesy Of Reeves International

“Without a shadow of a doubt it was Reggie, and just that one hind white sock,” Davidson said. “And it was close to perfect, his eye, everything, it was very well done. Breyer horses are synonymous with excellence, and he was definitely that. So that’s something that will carry on.”

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