Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Turning back the clock on the Breyer Western Pony

One of the perks of working for my alma mater, the University of Chicago, is access to its extensive library collection of more than 12 million volumes. Through it, I also have access to a variety of affiliate libraries in the area with interesting holdings of their own. Last May, I was finally able to visit one of these libraries to look through their issues of Toys and Novelties, a Chicago-based toy industry publication. My primary interest was in volumes from the mid-1940s through the end of the 1950s, seeking new information on the early days of Hartland, Breyer, and some of the companies that copied them.

Nearly 15 years of toy publications. I looked at
every single page.

Much of what I found has already been documented by earlier researchers, but I did turn up some fun new information that I don't think has been published yet. None of it is exactly earth-shattering, but it is the kind of minutiae that hobby history nerds like me live for.

First, some background---the earliest years of Breyer's history as a model horse manufacturer at the beginning of the 1950s are fairly murky. Very little in the way of early documentation has come to light, so collectors have made educated guesses based on the ads, catalogs, and price lists that do exist. We know the broad strokes, that Breyer started with the Western Horse in 1950 after taking over a contract with Mastercrafters Clock and Radio Company formerly held by Hartland. And we know that within a few years, they had added the Boxer, Western Pony, Fury Prancer, Lassie, Brahma Bull, and the Walking Hereford Bull to their line up along with a variety of riders. The earliest known catalog probably dates to 1954, but earlier company-issued catalogs, if they ever existed, have yet to come to light. We therefore have to rely on other sources of information such as toy trade publications like the aforementioned Toys and Novelties for glimpses into Breyer's beginnings.

I started with 1948 and worked my forward page by page over the course of several 8 hour days. The number of Hartland ads in the 1950s in Toys and Novelties far outstripped those by Breyer, but what Breyer submitted was at least colorful and visually appealing. Most issues featured a "New Toys on Parade" section which generally promoted products that had been on the market for a few months and were selling well. The Hartland Victor (free-standing) was listed in the new toys column in 1950, and the Breyer Western Horse (also free-standing) was likewise endorsed in the same column in 1951. (We know both models were available a year earlier respectively, but that has already been covered in my Western Horse Shaped Objects blog series.) I found this nice Western Horse advertisement in a 1952 issue (this is not a new discovery for collectors; it's just pretty). The back of the page features an ad for Breyer's Money Manager bank.

 
While it seems logical that Breyer's second model would be the Western Pony, it may in fact have been the Boxer which was featured in the "New Toys on Parade" column in February 1953.
 


The March 1953 issue is where things begin to get interesting. We know from Breyer historian Nancy Young's research that the earliest ad for a Western Pony she was aware of dated from the September 1953 issue of Western Horseman magazine (as per her published books in the late 1990s). According to Hartland expert Mike Jackson who collaborated with Nancy in the early 2000s, she had by that point come to believe that the Breyer Western Pony pre-dated the Hartland Small Champ, and likely dated to early 1953 if not earlier. The article below puts paid to that theory. Or rather, the photo does!

The article is about toy sales reps Walter and Arthur Krenzien, a father and son team who started their business in downtown Chicago in about 1930. They were one of the biggest promoters for Breyer in the early 1950s, and their ads featuring Breyer models can be found in a variety of 1950s Toys and Novelties issues. This particular issue from March 1953 mentions Breyers only in passing as one of many lines promoted by the Krenziens. It's the photo combined with the date of the magazine issue that knocked my socks off.


Check out the table on the left!

A close up---left to right: Boxer, alabaster WH & WP,
black WH & WP, and palomino WH & WP


To the best of my knowledge, this is the earliest proof we have of the existence of the Western Pony and the earliest date known for the black with gold trim colorway for the Western Horse and Pony. Because magazines are stocked and mailed in advance of their issue date, and because a certain amount of time is needed to write articles, lay out the articles, photos, and ads, and get the whole thing printed, the March 1953 issue of Toys and Novelties was very likely out by February of that year, presumably having gone to print at least the month before. Allowing time for writing and layout, it seems very likely that the actual photo used for the issue may have been taken some time in late 1952. Even if the Western Pony (and the black colorway for the Western Horse and Pony) were not yet available for sale in March 1953, we at least know the mold was functional and very likely in use by late 1952. It's entirely possible the Ponies (and the Boxer) were even sold for Christmas 1952.

I did not find an official "News Toys on Parade" release for the Western Pony as I did for the Western Horse and and Boxer, but I did find later ads for the Western Pony with various riders. It's possible the  Western Pony may predate the Boxer but simply wasn't advertised, or the two models may have been developed simultaneously. Given that Breyer was just getting started with model horses (and dogs), they may not have felt the need to promote every new release, or perhaps the Western Pony product announcement simply hasn't come to light yet. We may never know for sure, but it's fun to keep looking.

By 1954, Hartland was advertising their Champ models with cowboys and cowgirls, and by 1955, both Hartland and Breyer were in full swing offering various horse and rider sets. Nancy Young suspected that the Breyer riders probably predated all of the Hartland ones, but Hartland certainly beat them to the punch acquiring licensing rights for popular cowboy characters. But that is the subject for another blog post.

Just for fun, here are some other early Breyer ads I found. The March 1955 issue of Toys and Novelties featured an ad from Breyer wishing a happy business anniversary to the Krenziens.


The May issue from the same year featured the Indian brave and a pair of Cowboys or Lucky Rangers.


I am still working my way through other toy publications, and if I find anything fun, I'll be sure to update this post. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Remembering Krista Wasco

Life is full of surprises, and you never know how the smallest action can lead to something so huge and impactful as a wonderful friendship.

In May 2001, I made a post on Haynet-Exchange, the old hobby Yahoo group for buying and selling model horses, asking to trade my customizing skills for a Peter Stone pony called Sassy. The model had been released a few weeks earlier at Stone's Mayfest event in Shipshewana, IN, and I thought it was a really lovely piece. I was in grad school in Chicago at the time, so I hadn't really been aware of the event until after it was over. Not long after posting, I got a reply from Krista Corry, a hobbyist I didn't know, and she offered me her extra pony. She said it had a small flaw in the paint, but I told her I didn't mind, and she was just as happy to trade for my beginner level painting.

The pony that started it all

It turned out Krista was a fellow Minnesotan who was living just a few hours north of me in Fond Du Lac, WI, and her fiancé just happened to have family in Chicago where I was in school. The next time they were in town, they made a point to stop by to meet me. We had a wonderful time visiting, traded horses, and made a promise to meet up at BreyerFest later that summer. We continued to exchange emails and found we had similar tastes in movies and especially music (grunge, punk, and anything Chris Cornell did), as well as the same snarky sense of humor.

That one silly pony kicked off a 20+ year-long friendship and perpetual pony swap. Krista was glad to send me various OFs and resins of which I would keep a few and paint the rest for her. She even once traded me a window air-conditioning unit for my sweltering apartment in exchange for custom paint jobs. It makes me laugh every time I think of it.

As time went on, we became fast friends and made a point to get together every chance we could. At the Great Lakes Congress in Chicago in 2004, we roomed together and had so much fun all weekend. Krista, who was a talented tack maker and performance shower, took me under her wing and helped me start showing performance. She was generous with her talent and time, and she was always happy to lend tack or advice to anyone who needed it. I learned so much from her.

Krista tacking up her favorite breed

A beautiful Western saddle and bridle made by Krista

My favorite picture of us at GLC

Krista grew up with real horses and earned an equine science degree in college. She was a serious competitor in Western speed events from a young age. As she was in all aspects of her life, Krista was bold and fearless on horseback.

Krista barrel racing

Her heart horse was a bay Quarter Horse gelding named Trouble. His registered name was Sea Deck Go, and he was a great-great-great-grandson of the famous racehorse Seabiscuit. Krista and Trouble kicked ass and took names wherever they went.

Krista pole-bending with Trouble

Sea Deck Go aka Trouble

Krista’s beloved Trouble made the leap into the model horse world when I painted a portrait of him for her on DeeAnn Kjelshus' "Let's Roll" resin. The creativity and versatility of her performance entries was always so impressive, and just like with his real life counterpart, Krista enjoyed great success with model Trouble in just about every performance discipline.

Trouble spinning towards the last fence in a timed jump off

Trouble pole-bending in tack Krista made to match their real gear

A few months after attending GLC, we decided to hit the road together to travel to BreyerFest. To say we had a blast is an understatement. We laughed about loud ice machines, creepy hotel clerks, faulty fire alarms, and hilarious no-diving-or-your-head-will-break-off-and-lightning-will-shoot-out signs. (Trust me, it's really funny when you're punchy from lack of sleep because you showed at NAN until midnight for two days.)



Hanging out with Krista at BreyerFest was always an adventure. We showed at NAN and the BreyerFest Open Show, spectated at the not-a-NAN event, wandered the halls of the HIN/CHIN until the wee hours, and visited a bunch of horse farms over the years. 

Krista feeding a mint to Speightstown at Winstar

Krista and I with Tiznow

After she got married, Krista and her husband Mark moved to Sioux Falls, SD. One year after BreyerFest, I rode all the way back to Sioux Falls with her. We left Kentucky after the Sunday raffle (we didn't win, but not for lack of trying), drove through a crazy, intense thunderstorm, got asked for our numbers at a sandwich shop in Wisconsin, giggled like lunatics at Happy Bunny stickers at a gas station at two in the morning in the middle of nowhere, and finally rolled into Sioux Falls rocking out to Nine Inch Nails at 4am. I spent a couple of days with Krista noodling around Sioux Falls, and then we headed back to Minnesota to spend time with my family at my grandma's cottage. Grandma was also a horse person, and having lived through Seabiscuit's racing days, she was so impressed with and interested in Trouble and his famous ancestor. We had such a ridiculous amount of fun sharing stories during her stay with us.

Krista wanted very much to be a mom, and life with four kids kept her very busy. I didn't get to see her as much when they were young, but we definitely made the most of our time together when we could. 

Krista and baby Jack at BreyerFest

BF shenanigans with my sister, me, and Krista

At BreyerFest 2018, Krista was thrilled to meet one of her equestrian idols, champion barrel racer Charmayne James. She gushed about how amazing it was to get to talk to her at the Kentucky Horse Park, and I was so delighted for her when they ended up on the same flight out of Lexington and got to chat even more. 

Not even a twisted ankle could stop Krista at BF!
 
Krista was also a huge animal lover, adopting strays and purebreds alike. She loved all horses, too, but Quarter Horses, Saddlebreds, and especially cremellos were her favorite. She was good at anything she set her mind to, from making model horse tack to sewing clothes to learning sign language. Krista was the very embodiment of kindness, generosity, and compassion. 
 
Life threw an unfair number of curve balls at Krista, but her kids were her world, and she was their fiercest advocate. She would have done literally anything for them. She was a champion for autism awareness, trans-rights, and the LGBTQ community. Her kids loved Star Wars, and she took Space Mom (General Leia/Carrie Fisher) as her patron saint. We all remember her as a fierce mama bear and a strong woman who spoke out for what was right, but I know Krista would tell us she was just doing what had to be done.

It feels so unreal and wrong that we have lost such a vibrant, selfless, amazing force of nature like Krista. I'm devastated by the loss of my dear friend, and my heart is absolutely broken for her family, especially her kids. The outpouring of love from her friends has at least helped me bear my grief a little more easily. I hope Krista knew how many lives she touched and how many people loved her. She’ll always be remembered, and she’ll always be my best friend.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to a Gofundme set up for mark and the kids.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Hagen-Renaker: 1945-2021

At the end of this year, Hagen-Renaker will be closing its California factory for good after 76 years in business. It's the end of an era. While I am terribly sad about this news, it's not entirely unexpected. I've known for some time that there was no one else in the younger generations of the Renaker family interested in continuing the business when the present owners retire, and material and labor shortages during the pandemic have only hastened an inevitable end. (Before anyone panics too much, Hagen-Renaker Tennessee will continue to produce Hagen-Renakers under an official license from the family, a pretty amazing silver lining! More on that later in the post though.)

Hagen-Renaker has offered an amazing array of products over the course of their remarkably long history. In the model horse community, they are of course best known for the incredibly beautiful and lifelike horses sculpted by Maureen Love. Hagen-Renaker produced many other animals, both large and small, like the handsome Pedigree Dog line sculpted largely by Tom Masterson, as well as a variety of domestic and wild animals and even fantasy creatures. The comedic arts of Don Winton, Nell Bortells, Martha Armstrong Hand, and Helen Perrin Farnlund were put to excellent use with the Disney and Little Horribles figurines, and even Moss Renaker, mother of company founder John, designed pieces as well. 

Hagen-Renaker began in 1945 in the garage of John and Maxine (née Hagen) Renaker in Culver City, CA. The company started by making simple dishware and shadow boxes, but they quickly found that the real bread and butter of the pottery business was small ceramic animals, both realistic and whimsical.

An early Hagen-Renaker butter pat (photo by Sarah Wellman)

A handsome couple I like to think of as Elizabeth Bennett
and Mr. Darcy (early
Hagen-Renaker shadow boxes)

An early Miniature lamb

Early Miniature chickens

In the boom years of the early 1950s, Hagen-Renaker moved their production to several buildings in Monrovia, CA. This added space allowed them to branch out and add the larger scale Designer's Workshop line to their production. It featured exquisite horses...

many different dogs...

clowders of cats... 

a variety of domestic animals like chickens...

and much, much more. 

The 1950s also saw the introduction of the Disney line, considered the finest 3D renderings of Disney characters by Walt Disney himself, as well as other imaginative designs like Black Bisque, faux-stone plaques, the Zany Zoo, and the Little Horribles.

A sampling of Black Bisque pieces (photo by Sarah Wellman)

Double horse plaque designed by Maureen Love

Zany Zoo lion

By 1960, however, competition in the form of cheap unauthorized copies from Japan nearly put Hagen-Renaker out of business. They were forced to lay off the majority of their artists, and the company limped along with a skeleton crew. In about 1966, sales and consequently production began to pick up again, and the company moved 15 miles east to San Dimas, CA, where they had more room to expand. Though both the Miniature and Designer's Workshop lines continued at San Dimas, the decoration style was simplified to be more cost efficient. Pieces in the DW line at this time tended to have short production runs, so San Dimas pieces are often more rare than their Monrovia counterparts.

San Dimas Daisy in rare buckskin color 
(photo by Sarah Wellman)

San Dimas Ferseyn in rare steel grey color 
(photo by Sarah Wellman)

In 1980, Hagen-Renaker purchased the Freeman-McFarlin factory almost 100 miles south of their San Dimas location. This new factory had the space and facilities to devote to the production of larger scale ware, and some of the biggest and most spectacular DW pieces were made at San Marcos. 

Nataf, one of the largest DW horses at 12" tall

Sadly, the Designer's Workshop line was never as profitable as the Miniatures line which had remained in production at San Dimas. In 1986, the San Marcos factory was closed up and sold, and all production returned to San Dimas where it remained for more than 30 years. 

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Hagen-Renaker added the Specialties line, featuring slightly larger and more detailed sculptures than the usual Miniature pieces. They even experimented with stoneware finishes for a short time.

Stoneware birds

In 1993, Hagen-Renaker began to make a new line of small DW scale horses, beginning with Jamboree based on a sculpture Maureen had issued independently under the name Maureen Love Originals. A new sculpture for the line followed almost every year, and in 2000, Hagen-Renaker announced the return of the old DW horse molds in a fun variety of colors.

Jamboree issued in 1993 (photo by Sarah Wellman)

Encore issued in 1994

Reissue Large Zara in black produced in 2018

In Fall 2018, Kristina Lucas Francis opened Hagen-Renaker Tennessee, an officially licensed offshoot of the main company. Kristina learned the ceramics trade from HR-trained artists and their pupils, so I can't imagine a more perfect steward of the company's body of work. She has been producing small editions of DW and Mini pieces in exquisitely detailed colors for the last few years. As expected, the Hagen-Renaker Tennessee line has mostly consisted of horses so far, but Kristina has offered tantalizing sneak peeks of animal figurines coming in the future (and of course, the resurrection of the delightful Dead Bird as seen below).

Models produced by Hagen-Renaker Tennessee

Though Hagen-Renaker California will officially shut down in the next few weeks, Hagen-Renaker Tennessee will carry on. Kristina has already begun the process of moving a number of the molds to Tennessee, and she is offering exciting hints to members of the Hagen-Renaker Collectors Club, the best source for information on upcoming pieces. 

Some Hagen-Renaker Tennessee pieces are only available to HRCC members, and membership is only $29 a year. Not only does it allow purchase opportunities for exciting new runs, but members also get access to the Hagen-Renaker Field Guide, bi-monthly online newsletters, a printed annual at the end of the year, and fun Hagen-Renaker swag (mugs, T-shirts, etc). The HRCC is doing a membership drive right now through December 15th, so if you have not already joined, I highly encourage you to do so. (And if you mention my name as the person who convinced you to sign up, I'd very much appreciate it!)

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

What is a Breyer pearly?

Ever since I published my Breyer chalky post in 2015, I've been getting periodic requests to write about pearlies as well. Chalkies and pearlies share a similar history, so this is a logical follow up. Sorry it has taken me so long to get to it!

So what is a Breyer pearly? Like most chalkies, pearly models date to the oil crisis years of the mid-1970s. They are models molded in opaque iridescent, pearlescent plastic rather than plain white plastic. They are therefore akin to chalky plastic models, not basecoat chalkies, because their unique nature is inherent to the plastic used, NOT the paint. (Breyer has used pearlized paint in many modern paint jobs, but those models are not considered pearlies by collectors because only the paint, not the plastic, is pearlescent.)

Factory unpainted pearly Rearing Stallion

Many pearlies have a faintly yellowish cast to the plastic. In my experience, the plastic also looks dense and opaque, not translucent. The regular color for the model was painted directly over this plastic, hiding the plastic for the most part except where there are white markings or where the paint is thin.

Pearly bay Rearing Stallion

A close up of the pearly plastic revealed by his white socks

While just about every model available in the mid-1970s can be found as a chalky, pearly models were confined to just a handful of molds, most of them small. I'm not sure if pearly plastic didn't lend itself well to being molded on a larger scale or if it was primarily used on smaller models because it was less obvious. Known pearlies include:


Confirmed Pearlies

Classic Arabian Foal (chestnut and palomino)
Classic Rearing Stallion (bay and palomino)
Classic Quarter Horse Foal (chestnut and palomino)

Traditional Family Arabian Mare (bay)
Traditional Lying Down Foal (black appaloosa)
Traditional Quarter Horse Yearling (liver chestnut)
Traditional Scratching Foal (black appaloosa)
Traditional Thoroughbred (Nursing) Foal (chestnut)


The foals of both scales and the Rearing Stallions are the most common pearlies and can be found fairly easily. The Family Arabian Mare and Quarter Horse Yearling however are both exceedingly rare, and very few examples of either are known (only 1 or 2 as of this writing).

Based on which models are known to be pearlies, the years they were made, and given their relative scarcity, I suspect that the vast majority of them date to late 1974 or 1975. I date this based on the fact that the chestnut and palomino Classic Arabian and Quarter Horse Foals were not issued until 1975, and they are reasonably common in terms of pearlies. The bay Family Arabian Mare, probably the rarest pearly, was last issued in 1974. Had pearly plastic been used earlier, you would think a few more examples besides the one or two I'm aware of might be known. It's also telling that, as far as I know, no models that were new in 1976 (or later) have turned up as pearlies.

Very rare pearly liver chestnut Quarter Horse Yearling
(owned and photographed by Sara Roche)

Several other pearlies that I have not personally observed are rumored to exist. They are as follows:

Unconfirmed Pearlies

Classic Arabian Foal (black)
Classic Quarter Horse Foal (black)

Traditional Grazing Foal (bay)
Traditional Rough Coat Stock Horse Foal (black appaloosa)


The classic foals and the Grazing Foal are plausible given that they were available at the right time. I would love to see some pictures to confirm it though. I am skeptical of the Rough Coat Stock Horse Foal though as it was not made until 1978 which puts it several years beyond the likely pearly window. If anyone has photos of these models or knows of others not listed, I would love to see them! Feel free to email them to me at mumtazmahal (at) gmail (dot) com.

Pearlies can definitely be tricky to identify in photos, but like chalkies, they're usually obvious in hand. That said, there are some models from the late '70s and early '80s made of very shiny plastic that have been know to fool collectors. It's always best to compare them to a known pearly to see the difference. Many traditional scale models made of this shiny plastic are confused as being pearlies, but they are not.

I am also aware of a handful of fake pearlies that are not molded in pearly plastic but are instead either painted or sprayed with a clear pearlescent finish to mimic the look of pearly plastic. The ones I have observed are a bit too shimmery finish-wise when compared to a real pearly, and the biggest give away is the look of the painted areas of the models. The pearly finish is obviously on top of the paint. On a true pearly, because only the plastic is pearly, the paint almost entirely obscures the pearly nature of the plastic except in white areas.

And as I mentioned above, in recent years, Breyer has utilized pearlescent and metallic paint in many of their paint jobs, but as far as I know, no models molded in pearly plastic have been made since the 1970s. Perhaps a true pearly will be part of the Vintage Club line up in the future? Wouldn't that be fun!


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The White Horse of Uffington

"Beneath my hands the planes
Of his bleached shoulders move,
And the bow of his neck bends to the flint-shaped head.
I ride the chalk-white horse
That moves over bone-bare hills,
And from his streaming mane time falls away.

Between the thighs of kings
Who are now chalk-bare bones
His ancestors, the stallion-herds once strode,
Who, bending their bird-beaked heads,
Are now a shrinking scar
Across the downs from which time ebbs away."
~ Margaret Stanley-Wrench, 1958


About 20 miles southwest of Oxford, England, on a line of rolling green hills, an ancient 360-foot long white horse strides across the landscape. For nearly 3,000 years, the highly stylized chalk-cut horse has guarded the Vale of the White Horse and the Iron Age hillfort just beyond it on the top of the hill. The White Horse of Uffington is one of many figures cut into the hillsides of England, but it is by far the oldest of them all.

The White Horse of Uffington from the air via Google Maps

The White Horse of Uffington has long been a source of mystery and wonder for locals and travelers alike. Its origin and meaning have remained shrouded in mystery for centuries with various theories about its creation put forth by succeeding generations. The earliest know mention of it can be found in a medieval Welsh text which referenced only the fact of its existence, and that in passing. Seventeenth and eighteenth century gentlemen scholars speculated that Hengist and Horsa, the brothers who led the invasion of England by the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes in the fifth century AD, had carved the horse to commemorate their victory.Others claimed that King Alfred the Great had dug out the horse four centuries later to celebrate his own victory over Viking invaders. A few later scholars, aware of similar equine designs found on Celtic coins, correctly surmised that the horse likely predated the presence of the Romans in England in the first century BC at the very least.
 
Modern archeological methods however have proven that the horse is far older than Alfred or Hengist and Horsa or even the Romans. Unlike other chalk figures in Britain which were created by just scraping off the turf and lining the soil with chalk, the White Horse of Uffington was deliberately dug about three feet deep, and the resulting trenches were filled with crushed chalk. Using optimal stimulated luminescence, a method of measuring when soil was last exposed to sunlight, archaeologists have thus dated the horse to the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age, somewhere between about 1300 and 600 BC. The hill figure is therefore usually attributed to the Celts, though interestingly, it is situated in a landscape littered with earlier Neolithic and Bronze Age sites. Uffington Castle, a classic Iron Age bank and ditch hillfort, sits just out of frame to the right in the photo above. Neolithic long barrows, sarsen stones, and prehistoric trackways can be found scattered throughout the area within a mile or two of the horse as well. It seems likely that the site may have been chosen because it already held great cultural significance to the people who lived there before the arrival of the Celts.

Celtic horse coin from the Henley Hoard in the collection of the
Ashmolean Museum (photo by Ashmolean)

The figure of the horse has been scoured by locals for almost thirty centuries to keep it from becoming overgrown. Stratigraphy of the area immediately around the horse has shown that while its beak-like mouth has shifted in position a bit over the millennia, the general outline of the horse has remained true. It has always been a highly-stylized image of a horse rather than the remains of a more realistic figure.

As I mentioned above, it is located a short distance from Uffington Castle, and while hillforts absolutely served a defensive, militaristic purpose, they were also active centers of farming, storage, and trade. Excavations of hillforts have revealed dwellings, granaries, and animal pens within the ramparts. With that in mind, the notion that the White Horse symbolized some great victory in battle in the past may have some credence, but given the multi-purpose function of hillforts and the role of the horse in Celtic life and mythology, it seems much more likely that there may have been a religious or spiritual purpose behind the creation of the White Horse.

The Celts revered horses, considering them a symbol of high status and wealth. Horses were used as riding animals for hunting, as draft animals to pull carts, as war horses to pull chariots, and sometimes as sacrificial animals as well. The earliest princely Celtic cart burials date to around the seventh century BC and chariot burials appear a few centuries later. Classical writers like Caesar mentioned the great skill with which the Celts drove their chariots and rode their horses in cavalry charges. Images of horses abound in Celtic art adorning coins, sculpture, jewelry, drinking vessels, sacred objects, and more. 

A section of the Aylesford bucket featuring stylized horses, 
circa first century BC © The Trustees of the British Museum

Likewise, Celtic religion and mythology is full of horses, often white horses. Epona, the "Great Mare," whose very name is derived from the Celtic word for horse, was a goddess of horses and fertility and the cycle of life. She was usually depicted as a woman riding sidesaddle on a mare with a foal at their side, a symbol of fecundity. Worship of Epona sometimes included an aspect of death as well, portrayed in sculpture as the goddess leading a horse and departed souls into the afterlife. Epona was originally a deity of the Celts of Gaul, but so great was her popularity that her worship spread to various Celtic tribes along trade routes into Britain, Germany, and elsewhere. The Roman cavalry even claimed her as their patroness, and the cult of Epona was spread across the length and breadth of the empire. 

The Welsh goddess Rhiannon and the Irish goddess Macha bear strong similarities to Epona though their stories in the Mabinogian and the Táin Bó Cuailnge must be interpreted through a veneer of Christianity. (The Celts had no written language, so most of their stories were not put to the page until monks did so in the early medieval period.) Both however have strong associations with horses, fertility, and the cycle of birth and death. The Welsh and Irish myth cycles are rife with tales of horse races, magical horses, shape-shifters who become horses, and so on. Celtic life, both in reality and mythologically, revolved around horses to a great degree.

As I wrote in anticipation of the Celtic-themed BreyerFest last year, I've been fascinated by Celtic mythology and culture since I was a kid. As a lifelong horse girl to boot, I long ago took the White Horse of Uffington as a kind of personal totem. It's the perfect representation of my main passions in life, hence my studio name and logo. So you can imagine my intense nerdy delight when Breyer announced Uffington as a special run this year. He is a lovely shaded iridescent cremello on the new Altynai mold, and he is magnificent. His striking pearly finish perfectly captures the unique metallic sheen so often seen on Akhal-Tekes. 
 
 
This handsome Teke has been making the internet rounds as
the world's "most beautiful horse." He absolutely glows!

I ordered two Uffingtons, planning to keep the better of the two and repaint the other. Breyer however had sneaky plans afoot, and the first Uffington I received was actually this incredible holographic pewtery-black model. All of the special runs this year had secret variations, this one being a run of 200 pieces made in addition to the 1800 cremello Uffingtons. He's the first rare variation BreyerFest special run I've ever pulled, and I am beyond thrilled with him. 
 

I can't get over how gorgeous these two are together. All of the surprise variations this year were stunning, but this one is definitely my favorite.



Seeing this pair of Uffingtons galloping together puts me in mind of two of the most famous horses from Irish mythology, those that pulled the chariot of the great hero Cúchulainn. Legend says that he found the two horses in a mountain pool, a gift to him from the goddess Macha. Cúchulainn rode the horses around Ireland for a day until they were tame, and then they became his prized chariot horses who were loyal to him until the bitter end. The horses, Liath Macha and Dub Sainglend, were grey and black respectively in the tale, and they of course would have been much closer akin to ponies than Akhal-Tekes, but I'd like to think Breyer had those two in mind when they dreamt up these magnificent models.


References:

Green, Miranda. Animals in Celtic Life and Myth. London: Routledge, 1992.

Green, Miranda. Celtic Goddesses: Warriors, Virgins, and Mothers. New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1995.

Miles, David, and Palmer, Simon. "White Horse Hill." Current Archaeology, No. 142, XII (1995): 372-378.

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