Horses in the Attic

This is my first post in awhile. I’ve been in another creative slump, despite submitting some of my artwork to gallery shows in the fall. I even sold two of them, a painting I did for a Ukraine benefit, and a photograph from a series I took of Fort Ticonderoga here in upstate New York. It was a really gratifying experience for me, knowing someone liked my work enough to want to keep it for themselves. But as far as doing much new work, that’s not been happening.

I have been journaling though, and writing a few poems in between. Bits and pieces of things that come to me. And I am still taking pictures; there’s always something beautiful or moving or special that catches my eye most every day. Little things many people might miss. But I see them.

Speaking of little things: growing up I collected model horses. Pretty much any kind of horsey item was fair game, but by the time I was in my teens I’d amassed a collection of about 400 plastic model horses, most made by a company called Breyer. They were my absolute treasures. I scoured flea markets and wanted nothing else for Christmas or birthdays. I loved and named every one of them, and they had their own room (like a stable, thanks to my parents) full of shelves where I kept them constantly on display.

A huge following and hobby had developed around these horses, kids and adults collected and showed them both through photo shows via the mail and at live events all over the country. Talented artists repainted and remade the models, creating even more lifelike and unique ones that could sell for several hundreds of dollars. People even made saddles, bridles and other equipment for them, along with props and dolls to ride or otherwise display with the horses.

Now my family had a few actual horses that I of course adored, but through my models I got to have hundreds. Different breeds and colors, ages and sizes, with some models created as tributes to real horses or ones from books, like Man O’ War, a famous racehorse, and Black Beauty.

Me at about age 10 with our (real) horse Danny

It was a totally absorbing hobby for me, and provided happiness and escape in an often chaotic household. When my parents were arguing or my father drinking, all I had to do was venture up into my little horse room and disappear into that world.

Model horses also spurred one of my earliest creative efforts. I learned to repaint them, and to a lesser extent remake or reshape them. I never got very good at that, but my creations won some classes at shows over the years. What I did become good at was taking pictures of them. I got a very nice Nikon camera and really learned to use it. I designed intricate scenes, like dioramas, with props and dolls, and took my models outside into the fields and woods for realistic photo shoots. Back then cameras still only used film, and I was always so eager to get my pictures back from the developer I could hardly stand it.

Live events were also fun, but they were harder for me to get to. It involved packing up whatever horses I could bring, any props/equipment, and driving sometimes several hours to a show. Plus I was a kid in school, and didn’t have the means or time. These trips could be very expensive with fees and costs, much like real horse shows. Fortunately my mom was always very supportive of me and this hobby (she loved horses, too), and took me to the live shows when we could.

Once I went to college though, I fell out of the hobby. My horses still had their room, but I was rarely home anymore. Shortly after my mother died suddenly from cancer, my father decided to remodel the house. I was 22, and in my last year of school. My models were packed up into boxes, quite a few obviously, and stored in the basement. He never waited for me to help do it, just hired people to pack and move them. That was a difficult time between my dad and I for many reasons, and how he handled my beloved horses didn’t help.

As time went on, and I moved from my home in Missouri here to New York, I still thought about all my horses. I would occasionally buy one if I saw it in a toy or antique store, but I never acquired the same amount I once had. But I always got that little thrill of joy I once felt from them.

Eventually my father in a good-hearted attempt shipped the boxes up to me. I think some were lost on their journey, which I tried not to think about, because I only ended up with a little over half the number I’d had when I unpacked them. For awhile they had their own space again, until another move forced me to repack them and put them into storage once more. But at least I knew where they all were, and that now they were here with me.

I continued to pay some attention to the hobby, too. It was still going, the live and photo shows, the conferences, although the Internet was now in existence and created a whole new avenue for showing the models. But I never got back into it like I had as kid. I thought of my hobby at times as being part of another life for me. The models had become small jewels of memory that I loved knowing were still with me, but seemed too much childish stuff to bring out into my now grown-up world.

But always I thought of them, and that small, young-at-heart person inside of me wanted them back in the house again, not packed away in boxes. It was a strange, nostalgic kind of longing, a strong, physical memory that never left. I can still recall the feelings of joy and happiness they brought me as a kid: finding a rare or special one I wanted at a flea market, having one win or place in a class and getting a ribbon, being given the exact one I wanted for Christmas, trekking around outside to find a perfect place for taking pictures, that giddy, childlike thrill that my body and mind remembered when I’d bought one as an adult.

With Christmas close at hand, I began thinking about them again. I looked them up and found several for sale on Amazon, and then decided Breyer probably had their own site now, too. Of course I visited it, and found both the horses and the hobby still going strong. Breyer had clubs now, groups that got access to special model releases, lots of hobby info, workshops on crafting models, and a calendar of events and shows were all easily accessible online.

Then there were all the models themselves. Lots of new, more detailed models had been created; but some of the ones I remembered and owned were still around, just with new names and finishes. Looking at them I got that same familiar rush of joy filling my heart. And I thought, why not? If this once brought so much happiness to me, and just the idea of it still does, why don’t I follow that? Plastic toys to some they may be, but to me they were the delightful mini versions of horses I still loved. And still wanted.

I put some (okay, several) models in my cart, purchased a club membership, and subscribed to the model horse magazine they were still publishing and that I used to get as a kid. I even hunted down on eBay one gorgeous model that was out of stock, probably paying too much for it. But it was that feeling over again, impossible to resist once I gave myself permission to embrace it.

As I eagerly await my arrivals, these Christmas gifts to myself, these memories both new and old, I am planning the space in my finished basement where I’ll keep them. There’s only one bookshelf I can clear off for now, but once I get the others out of storage next year ( which is my plan) I will need more space. But I will find it, or make it. Starting this small collection in my house will inspire me to do it, I know, to dig through all the boxes and other items in my storage unit, and hopefully clear out much of what I don’t really need or want anymore.

But my horses are not one of those things. They are still treasures, just knowing some are coming is terribly exciting for me. And I’m looking forward to bringing back my old ones. Nothing else ever quite gave me such carefree, happy memories as the models. I may never be able to get into showing them again, but who knows? Now that I’ve given myself permission to feel, to want, to embrace it again, who knows where it will lead.

And in this crazy time in the world, with sad and scary things happening all over, I think it’s important to find whatever gives us joy, whatever lightens our hearts and minds. So I am taking the reins, so to speak, and following my heart on this this one. I hope everyone can find the same for themselves.