Friday, June 24, 2011

It All Started With One Palomino

Even as a child, I was obsessed with horses. My bookshelf was filled with Marguerite Henry, Walter Farley and other horsey authors. My bed was buried beneath plush ponies, and my toy box (when I actually put toys in it) contained my collections of small plastic horses, medium sized flocked toy horses, Barbie's big horses, a green truck and horse trailer, and My Little Ponies among other things. The gigantic dollhouse my grandmother made for me became a stable at one point. There was an almost Shetland Pony sized ride-on plastic horse (named Ginger) in my room. Even stuff that wasn't a horse, became a horse once I got my hands on it. The marbles that I played with at the neighbor's house became a herd of wild horses and my bike was a horse. When I wasn't playing with horses, I was being a horse, and would trot around tossing my mane, whinnying and snorting.

On one birthday, my cake topper was a palomino rearing horse, my first Breyer horse. This palomino quickly became a favorite due to his life-likeness but his rearing stance made him difficult to play with. If he was tipped on to all fours, he did make a plausible race horse but the fragility of the angle of his legs caused him to have an early retirement and even the application of prosthetics. That little horse was the start of a collection, a portion of which I still own.

The Palomino was soon followed by a trio that I got for Christmas one year. There was a Clydesdale Stallion, a bay mare and a Shetland Pony. The three bays were deemed a family, even though I knew at that early age that ponies were not babies (but one can pretend) and were dubbed Prince, Lightning and Sugar. Each of them came in a cardboard box and inside the box was a fold-out pamphlet with pictures of all of the available Breyer horses. I was immediately hooked and pored over those pamphlets for hours.

My neighbor got some Breyer horses as gifts too, so I would go to her house with my little herd and we could play all day in the hallway upstairs in her house or in her living room on the braided rug. The braided rug made an excellent race track but it was hard to get the horses to stand up when they weren't racing. The hallway was unfinished plywood so it was better for keeping the herd on their feet and had great acoustics for the plastic-y hoof beats.

As my collection grew, I had to move up to carrying them to the neighbor's house in a laundry basket. I'd lug my horses, all tumbled together, across the yards to play. Our play horses most often became wild horses or domestic horses that escaped to become wild. We divided them up into families and each of the horses had a name and personality. Soon, my cousin got involved with Breyer horses and then the two of us spent almost every moment together playing with them. At sleepovers we'd play until my Dad would finally bang on the door and growl "Stop clomping those horses and go to bed!"

Clomp them, we certainly did. They raced and fought, escaped from barns and wild horse hunters with helicopters, and had grand adventures. Not without some casualties though. There were occasional broken legs with different versions of repair (everything from Scotch tape, to Super-Glue) a few broken ear tips and tails, but most of the damage came from rubs. The paint on the horses rubbed off on prominent places and the white plastic showed through. The rubbing occurred from the clashes of fighting, and travel damage (laundry baskets have no airbags) and hoof wear and tear from so much galloping and clomping.

As I got older and became responsible for buying my own additions to the collection, I also became more conscious of the care of the horses. When traveling, they were now wrapped in clothes in my suitcase or laundry basket to protect them slightly. They no longer fought with such vigor or raced with such abandon. I experimented with making tack to domesticate them more and with repainting battle-scarred horses. The collecting became more of the thrill than the play. I still named each and every horse and categorized them by breeds, colors, families, sizes, and alphabetically by name. The names became more glamorous and the horses each had "show names" and "barn names". Prince, Lightning and Sugar gave way to Springfield Fox (Foxy), PK Paco Boy (Paco) and Whispering Pines' Tipperary (Tippy). Some of the names were in jest (Zip It Kid and Little Brown Colt), some were named after real horses I knew (Impressive Chief, Tapeka), people I thought worthy (Andy's Birthday Girl, Justa Summer Squash) or in honor of fun events or special occasions (GP Says Sell It, Rum Tum Tugger) and then there were the ones I got as Christmas gifts that I gave holiday themed names (Yukon Cornelius, Stocking Stuffer, Christmas Fawn, Little St. Nick, Blitzen, Gabriel, King Wencelus...). Another good friend, who also collected Breyer horses, would even let me name some of hers.

Naming them became half the thrill of the collecting and I began keeping a notebook of potential names. To keep myself awake during class in school or long drives, I would either come up with new names or try to list all of my horses. As I approached the triple digit numbers for the herd, that became quite a feat. Soon, I had to resort to tags to keep all of their names straight. The ones that were major characters (Mikal Midnight, Lady Phase, Little Gal...) during play were never forgotten, but some of the newer ones that I acquired during adulthood and spent their days on the shelf, I was a bit fuzzy on. Shamefully, I would have to peek at their hang tags when I couldn't recall the name.

During my childhood, some of those horses seemed as real to me as any flesh and blood horse. I could see them cantering across a meadow, walking about with the wind in their manes, mares patiently watching the colts and fillies play, and I could swear that their black-painted eyes twinkled with life. For a while I was satisfied with the collecting. My motto was "It's not a matter of having too many horses, it's a matter of not having enough shelves." Then there came a shift, as it states in a diary I kept at about 5th grade, "I would trade all of my Breyer horses for one real horse!". Now, I have a stable full of real horses and my poor neglected Breyer horses, what is left of more than 300 models at one time, sit on their shelves gathering dust. Every once in a while, I take them down and dust them off and rearrange them (so they get to have new neighbors) but mostly they just stand as reminders of a time when possibilities were endless and I was only limited by imagination.

My notebook of horse names still exists, I have about 100 Breyer horses left after giving some away and selling others, but my days of clomping horses around on the floor are long gone. Now I spend my days with my real horses trying to teach them how to not clomp around, fight or race. My real horses are messier, more expensive, and much more trouble than my plastic herd. There is no way, however, that I would ever trade my real horses for 1, or 300, or all of the Breyer horses in the world.

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