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Creating a Winter Wonderland

Text and photos by Traci Durrell-Khalife


Whether you're looking for a competitive model horse entry for a live or photo show or simply a fun scene to enjoy in your home, a winter theme offers endless inspiration!


Crisp autumn air gives way to colder days. The last of the lovely golden and crimson leaves have blown away. In some parts of the country, rain ushers in winter. In others, snowflakes herald its beginning.

Life on a farm is tied closely to the seasons. As autumn rolls around, farmers and ranchers are weaning their calves and foals, storing their machinery and preparing their land for winter.

Winter is a relatively restful time on the farm, as adverse weather often prohibits much outdoor work. It's a good time to catch up on record keeping, leather repairs and machinery maintenance. Farmers must keep a close watch on livestock during the season. When it's cold, animals need to eat more to maintain their body heat, so providing plenty of forage is essential. Farmers must also be sure buckets and troughs aren't iced over and that weather conditions are not threatening the wellbeing of the animals.

Setting the Scene


When creating a snow scene, there are several options for footing. If you live in a snowy area, you can take pictures in the real thing! However, you may not wish to risk taking your models out in it. The cleanest, simplest artificial footing is cotton quilt batting. Since it's one piece, it's easy and quick to spread out. Some models don't stand on it very well, but this can be remedied by cutting a tiny hole or slit in the batting for each foot to pass through. Decorative flaked snow is also a good choice. It's easy to spread and gives a fluffy, textured look. It tends to cling to items and is easily blown around, so cleanup takes a bit longer. You may also choose to sculpt a permanent snowy diorama base.

The next consideration is the background. Again, you may have a real snowy area to use as your studio. If not, try a photo poster or a painting. Christmas cards are good inspiration. Google image searches will also turn up some great background ideas.

You may want to decorate your scene with a snowman figurine, artificial trees, fences or other in-scale props. A Breyer barn also makes a great setting for a winter scene. A wreath on each stall door and a string of tiny lights will set a festive mood.

A Time to Work...and to Play!


Many working scenes lend themselves well to "other performance" entries. A typical winter farm or ranch chore is feeding cattle in a pasture, perhaps with a draft horse pulling the hay sled. One of my setups shows the horse standing quietly as one of the men unloads bales. 

Jack unloads bales for the cattle while his brother holds the horse.
Jack unloads bales for the cattle while his brother holds the horse.

 

The other depicts a feeding scene where the horse is outside the range of the picture.

Not all scenes require a horse.
Not all scenes require a horse.

 

Other activities include herding animals from one pasture to another, checking fences on horseback, and rescuing stray or injured animals.

There's always time for fun, too. It may be as simple as climbing on bareback for a ride through the snow or as glamorous as a sleigh ride to Grandmother's house. Your scene can tell a story, as does mine with the two ponies. Billy goes to the pasture to check on his ponies and finds them near the frozen pond. They're eager to greet him, as he's brought an apple. He's also brought along a halter and rope, so he can lead one up to the barn; knowing the other is sure to follow. Then he'll hitch one up to the little sleigh.

A frozen pond adds to the wintry feel of this setup.
A frozen pond adds to the wintry feel of this setup.

 

Sledding downhill is a blast, but dragging the sled back uphill is, well, a drag. A fun alternative is to tie a rope to the sled and have a horse and rider pull you around! For safety, my sled rider wears a helmet and the rope is only dallied - not tied - around the horn and held by the rider's hand. The family dog runs alongside. 

Sledding behind a horse is especially fun!
Sledding behind a horse is especially fun!

 

As Christmas nears, it's time to go to the forest and choose the perfect tree. Using a lariat, the horse and rider drag it back through the snow to the house. The cowboy looks warm in his fur-trimmed jacket and scarf. A calm, steady horse like the San Domingo mold is well suited to the task. 

For some country folks, bringing in the Christmas tree on horseback is a tradition.
For some country folks, bringing in the Christmas tree on horseback is a tradition.

 

You can also capture the magic of every little girl's dream of wanting a pony for Christmas. In my scene, Cindy is still wearing her robe on Christmas morning as she finds her new pony in the barnyard. She's all smiles as she gets acquainted with him and offers him carrots. 

What better gift than a pony!
What better gift than a pony!

 

Winter snows can transform a landscape into a magical wonderland. With a little imagination, you can create your own miniature wonderland for your model horses!

 

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