Tracy Tariska is a teacher and a model horse judge who officiated at the 2010 BreyerWest Youth Show. She has spent a lot of time with novice showers and developed the following notes to help novices prepare for their first couple of shows.
Model horse halter classes are modeled on real-life horse shows and real-life halter classes. Just as real horses are judged on their confirmation and quality, model horses are judged based on anatomy & biomechanics (conformation), breed standards, color, and condition.
Models that are an unrealistic color, such as the Breyer "decorator" colors (Wedgewood, Florentine, charcoal, woodgrain, tie-dye, etc.) do not show in regular halter classes, but in special classes where they are judged mainly on collectability (rarity, age, color, condition).
Note: Just because Breyer issues a model as a certain breed, it does not necessarily mean it is the only breed choice! With some research, you may find multiple different breeds that your model can represent. Choose the breed that you feel fits your model best - and if your assignment doesn't work out, you can always try something else at the next show.
Ask yourself: "How is the model put together, conformation-wise?"
Choose your show models carefully. While some older sculptures are more correct than more modern "new molds," it is not always the case. Avoid cartoonish, stylized models, as well as older models with blocky hooves, bug eyes, or bumpy muscles. A good show model is one that is well put-together and most closely resembles a living, breathing horse.
Note: Different judges will have different preferences, even with the same judging criteria. Some judges will prefer an older mold while others might choose a newer mold instead. Your placings may vary from show to show depending on the judge and the competition at the table. Remember and respect that judging is subjective.
Ask yourself, "Does the model accurately represent the breed you have chosen?"
Most of the judge's evaluation of your model will be comparing it to the standards for the breed you have assigned it. The judge will consider the horse's body type as well as the color and white markings/patterns. The wrong color or inappropriate markings can disqualify your model, so it is important to do some research! Most breed standards can be found online, and a good breed book will be very useful.
Breed documentation can enhance your entry - especially if your model is a color not typical for the breed, or has unusual markings. Typically, any information or pictures must fit on a single 8 ½ x 11" page that is placed on the table with your model.
For some ideas, start here:
Some good breed books:
The Official Horse Breeds Standards Guide - ISBN 978-0760334997
International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds - ISBN 978-0806127538
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds - ISBN 978-0785806042
Horses (Smithsonian Handbooks) - ISBN 978-0789489821
Horse Breeds of the World - ISBN 978-0754800132
Does the model catch the judge's eye? Does it have obvious flaws?
Sometimes a judge will face a table with several of the same model. How do they choose between them? After breed standards, the answer is color and condition.
A show model should be in good condition with minimal to no flaws. Models with scratches, rubs (especially on the eartips, hooves and tail), yellowing of the plastic, and/or overspray (on the mane & white markings) will be marked down or disqualified. The judge will be looking for rich color and shading, crisp white markings, neatly-painted hooves and eyes and for a finish as close to flawless as possible.
Glossy or matte? Some judges prefer one finish over the other, but usually it all depends on which finish brings out the best color on the model. One finish does not necessarily have an advantage over the other.
To protect the finish, showers usually wrap their models in soft t-shirts or towels, specially- sewn "pony pouches" or even bubble wrap (bubble-side out, and do not store in the heat - the bubble wrap will stick!) for transport to a show. A lightweight blanket, sheet or tablecloth goes on the shower's table to protect the models in case they fall over.
Note: lay tippy models on their sides so you don't get a domino effect that wipes out your show string if one falls!
Tippy models may also be placed on their sides on the show table (use a felt square or similar fabric underneath) for judging - it will not penalize your model, but it does give the judge permission to pick the model up and examine both sides.
Just like model horse halter classes are patterned after real-life horse show halter classes, performance classes try to recreate an authentic class or scenario from the real horse world.
Entries for performance classes can be any scale, from Mini-Whinnies and Stablemates all the way up to Traditional. It is important to remember that the props and tack for your entry have to be in the same scale as your model.
Is the horse in the correct pose for the task? Are the tack and props correct for the task and in the correct scale?
Some Breyer molds are naturally suited for certain tasks, such as reining, eventing, or dressage, because of their pose and/or breed type. In a performance class, the focus is not on anatomy and biomechanics, but on whether the horse can safely complete the task in your scenario. Performance can give new life to older sculptures that may not be as competitive in breed classes today, or those that have some larger biomechanical faults.
Documentation is very important in performance classes. If you are showing a reining or arena trail entry, include a picture or diagram of the pattern. If you have a dressage entry, put down a copy of the test with the specific spot marked.
You can find reference pictures and diagrams on the Internet from riding magazines (Horse Illustrated, Horse & Rider, Western Horseman, Practical Horseman, etc.). Many breed organizations also have their rulebooks available for download online.
2. Tack & Props
Next, the judge will consider the tack and props of your entry for correctness, fit and scale. While custom-made tack is usually of higher quality and better fit and sale, the judge will also look for placement of the saddle and cinch/girth, fit of the bridle and bit, length of reins, prohibited or required equipment (ex. running martingale in a hunter class, snaffle/bosal vs. curb bit in western pleasure, proper dressage bridle for the level of the test shown, etc.) and other technical details.
Similarly, the judge will evaluate any props in your entry for correct scale and type - are your ground poles the right size and placed appropriately? Is your arena trail bridge a good length and width for the model crossing it? Is your hunter fence the right type and height for the entry? Are your cattle placed in the right spots for your cutting horse? Are your flowerpots in scale? Again, using pictures can be very helpful.
(Generally speaking, Breyer tack and props are best-suited for novice showing. If you want to be competitive in open showing, you will need to purchase, re-make or make your own custom tack and props.)
3. To use dolls or not?
Dolls can either help or hurt your entry. A properly attired, properly posed doll can add that extra bit of realism to impress the judge, but a poorly-seated doll, or one that is sloppily dressed or out of scale for the entry can make the difference between a ribbon and disqualification.
Since not using a doll doesn't penalize you, it is best to do without unless you are very sure it will enhance your overall entry.
Don't be afraid to think outside the box! If you see unique, unusual or interesting real-life horse performances, document with pictures and create an entry just like it! Maybe your "costume" entry will be a horse painted like a giraffe, or a draft horse tacked up in bling for a wedding in India. Maybe your cowboy and his trusty ranch horse try herding cats instead of cattle! Originality counts and is appreciated in the show ring.
Remember - showing model horses is supposed to be FUN. Show good sportsmanship to your fellow competitors and enjoy the experience!