What Makes a Model Horse Show Champion?

By Chris Jones


To help answer this question, let's first look at the widely-accepted definition of the word. "Champion" is commonly described in the dictionary as "one who shows marked superiority." Many of us understand how this distinction works in sports or in dog and equestrian shows. But how could a non-living object like a model horse become a champion? To appreciate that, let's first look at what a model horse represents.

In the late 1940's and early ‘50's manufacturers such as Hartland and Breyer began producing the model horse as toy replicas of real horse breeds. Because horses are loved worldwide, it didn't take long for these imitations to become highly collectible. It followed that collectors began sharing their mutual interest by holding model horse shows that followed the principle of live equestrian events. As a result, just as live horse shows evaluate structural correctness and breed characteristics, model horse shows follow these same guidelines, but in scaled comparison.

The making of a champion begins with the model purchase and selecting the best specimen possible. From collector to hobbyist to judge, the criteria are the same: attention to detail. What does that mean? Aside from receiving a model as a gift or making an internet purchase, it means personally looking critically at each model the store has available and comparing them side by side to choose the best possible one.

Long-time collector, model judge, and successful exhibitor and tack maker, Desiree Corbett of Grass Valley, California, offers this important piece of advice. "Make sure the color is legal or genetically possible for the breed," and adds "How crisp are the edges of a horse's markings and how smooth is the overall paint job? Attention to detail -- this is where a model could well be chosen over one of similar caliber otherwise...in the shower's homework!"

Inspect the shading for realism and dappling for proper scale in relation to the size of the horse. Check for bent legs or rubs (which can happen during shipping) and smooth seams. If the model is glossy, is the finish even and free of blemishes or imbedded lint? Also, make sure there is no overspray of one paint color to the next in areas where they touch, such as along the mane, forelock, tail, or socks. Lastly, look at the eyes to be sure they are nicely detailed and shiny because they often give a model its realistic appeal. With sometimes dozens of horses in the ring, all competing for the same blue ribbon, paying attention to this type of detail can really make a difference.


Once the model is chosen for competition in model horse shows, it's time to assign it a breed. While understanding there is no perfectly conformed horse, one with poor structure can limit its ability to perform a specific task in the real horse world, and that same philosophy follows with model horses. One important word of caution: just because a model horse bears a breed name such as "Morgan" or "Friesian" on the package does not mean it is!

Cindy Ruth, a Stockton, California, resident and successful collector and exhibitor offers these helpful hints on breed assignments. "Look at the body type of your model first. Does it more closely resemble a Thoroughbred, Stock horse, Light breed, or Draft horse?" Research equine breed books or the internet to select a breed or type that best resembles the model. "I try to find unusual breeds," Cindy continues, adding "When I find a great one, I make sure to read all the requirements for the breed to be sure the model follows the description and that its color and markings are proper. Then I print the information (keeping it as small as possible for sometimes limited table space) and laminate it for durability." From a judge's point of view, Desiree Corbett adds, "Documentation that is nicely done and has supporting photos that actually resemble the model makes for a superior entry."

Model and Photos

Model horse shows consist of two essential divisions: Halter and Performance. Halter shows often include divisions such as Original Finish Plastic and its sub-class, Collectibility; while the Artist Resin, China/Resin, and Custom classes are eligible for a Workmanship sub-class that evaluates their preparatory and finish work. A good example of where superior documentation is vital is within the Collectibility class, where explaining the rarity and condition of a model-especially a vintage one-is essential. With the number of special model releases in existence, it is impossible for a judge to know them all, and so it becomes the responsibility of the exhibitor to provide the information that may well give their model an edge over others on the table.

Model 1

The Performance classes focus more on the model's pose and suitability to real-life tasks. Classes require proper in-scale tack for each discipline such as English, Western, and Other (this category consists of the popular Costume classes such as Arabian, Parade, Native American, Fantasy, etc.). Dolls are not required but add to the realism of the entry and also allow for creativity. Scale of props, carts, and obstacles is critical, as is the application of sticky wax to retain placement of headgear or accessories for the model's best possible presentation. The entry is complete with a card that briefly and neatly describes the activity being displayed (carefully check spelling and punctuation).

Model 2

To illustrate some of these points further, here are some helpful tidbits from a variety of longtime successful hobbyists:

Exhibitor, collector, and popular judge, Donna Anderson, Pahrump, Nevada, shares what stands out to her when looking at a table full of horses, "This is a moment in time that reflects the pride and efforts of the shower, a ‘spark' as it were that, in seconds, has to make an undeniable impression in a judge's mind to take it to the head of the class."

Jane Morehouse, San Leandro, California, successful exhibitor and judge says, "When time, handling, and storage has left old vintage models in still-great condition, that asks for attention and reward. A NAN champion in any division needs to get me to feel like I was given a privilege to judge it - a model I would be proud to own myself - and one that if I can walk away after marking it down as a ‘1st' leaves me with a few goose bumps saying ‘Wow!' to myself."

Mary Thompson of Southern California discloses, "Speaking as a primarily OF/Collectability judge, it has to be the ‘Triple Crown' of: great condition, significance (i.e. vintage, rarity, difficult to obtain, etc.), and correct breed assignment. It is the evidence of the shower doing their homework and putting in the extra active effort that increases the likelihood of my giving that model the nod. It is part of that old ‘presentation is everything' motto."

So, remember to be particular about the model you select for purchase, because it all starts there. Make the effort to research your breed assignment and add photos that match your model, both in color and pattern as well as in body position. Do ask questions of the judges you show under to improve your entry next time. And when your model begins to place consistently well in large classes, at multiple shows and under a variety of judges, you will have the undeniable sign of excellence: the makings of a Champion!