When I was a kid, one of my mother's friends bequeathed me her Breyer model horse collection. I ecstatically played with them in the backyard for years. They were like My Little Ponies, but grown-up!
Later, my brief stint in 4-H taught me that you could "show" them. Basically, it was playing dress-up with your Breyer, but with lots of homework involved. You could make some tack (or buy it if you were rich), dress your horse, then on a notecard, write what the horse was and why it was wearing this particular outfit. You got judged on how neatly you presented your stuff, how nice/realistic the tack and model were, and your knowledge of it all. "Paint horse with purple felt halter" got you minimal points, "trotting bay frame overo with real leather-and-silver western show halter, shown as in showmanship class" got you way more points. (Rules here)
As a kid, I thought it was kind of dumb; I wanted a real horse. This model horse showing seemed like a poor substitute. Until recently, I had no idea that it's a really big thing. It's not a poor substitute, it's a past-time bordering on a career. Like, on the level of some peoples' obsessions with scale model railroads. Adults spend thousands and thousands of dollars on showing model horses. The level of detail on some of them is incredible.
- Serious competitors have a "stable name" and show names for each horse in their "show string." They collect only the rarest, best-quality models. (If you want to identify one of yours, try this guide for Breyers and this guide for Peter Stone models. If it's not one of those, well, good luck.)
- Really really serious competitors transport their model horses in super-protective, locked cases!
- You can paint, re-mold and customize the models, either by ordering one custom-made for you or doing it yourself (with extremely precise tools).
- There are special shows and show categories for horses made by different companies, re-painted and re-sculpted horses, etc. There are also "classes" for every kind of tacked or un-tacked model horse imagineable.
- You can make or buy realistic dolls to ride or show your horses.
- You can create or buy custom tack for every horse sport, with incredible detail.
- You can spend hundreds of hours (or dollars) making realistic scenery with which to display your models.
- There are model horse associations of all stripes, including the North American Model Horse Shows Association (membership only $30 for two years).
- There are "live shows" where you physically travel to a location and set up your horses on a "show ring" (big table) and photo shows, where you can email pictures to an online show organizer. Of course, you have to pay an entry fee for shows, just like real horse shows.
Wow, right? Who would have thought that there was an entire sub-sub-culture of horse enthusiasts. Kind of scary.
Oh, and just for fun: Best Costume Ever: