Ponies In The Mist: A Week At BreyerFest
by Erin Corbett
What could motivate a family to pack a bunch of toy horses into the family car and drive 2,300 miles to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky in the middle of July?
It’s humid, it’s expensive, it’s dusty, and it’s my favorite week of the year. BreyerFest is a model horse convention put on by Breyer Model Horses, the manufacturer of the large majority of model horse figurines available in today’s market. There is an incredibly vibrant collector’s community around these models, and we all gather for a week to celebrate our collections, connect with friends from across the country, and most of all, to buy and sell model horses.
The pursuit and acquisition of new horses for our collections is a common theme for BreyerFest attendees. We buy model horses only available that year at the Kentucky Horse Park, we enter raffles, we enter contests, we show off our collections to each other, and we sell items from our own collections. We also buy them from each other at the official host hotel, where we all prop our room doors open and wander from room to room, looking over the sales offerings spread out over the beds and TV stands of our peers. The hotel has come to expect this behavior from us, and no longer tries to stop it.
The collector community is interesting in its makeup. We are overwhelmingly female, middle class Americans of Caucasian descent.
|photo by Gina Witters|
We are relatively uniform in our dress, in that the average model horse hobby person values comfort and function over style or aesthetics. So much so that to ‘dress up’ at BreyerFest is seen as odd and unusual, and doing so will generate comments from fellow attendees. Athletic wear and sandals or running shoes is the unofficial BreyerFest uniform, as are large screen-printed t-shirts, often with Breyer branding.
The language unique to BreyerFest would require a several page appendix to fully outline, but for the purposes of this brief paper it’s sufficient to say that there’s a whole subset of American English we use that wouldn’t make sense to anybody not ‘in the know’. This ranges from acronyms like “LSQ” (Live Show Quality) and “ISH” (Ideal Stock Horse) to phrases like “Live Model Horse Show”. How can a model horse be alive, and how would you show one? That’s a topic for another paper! We enculturate newcomers to learn these phrases and terms by pushing them off the metaphorical deep end. Comprehensive indexes and definitions of these terms are rare and hard to find, so most often a newcomer will ask a friend, or simply do their best to infer meaning based on context. To keep up with a model horse conversation at BreyerFest means knowing these terms, so many attendees will do research ahead of time to make sure they’re fully prepared.
Cultural Folkways and Norms
A cultural norm for this community is an overwhelming acceptance of newcomers. By and large, questions are encouraged, both in person at BreyerFest and on our various discussion forums and social media groups. We all can remember being a newcomer once, so we go out of our way to help guide the next generation of collectors.
On the other side of the coin, our strong attachment to the model horses themselves allows us to overcome some gaps in understanding we might not otherwise bridge. For example, through the model horse hobby and BreyerFest, I am friends with many women whose political and social views are drastically different from my own. I am able to set that aside, and focus on them as fellow horse enthusiasts, and keep conversation topics centered around ‘safe’ topics, like what we just purchased or what ‘famous’ horse we just met. We celebrate universally when somebody makes an amazing find at an antique store and finds a very old or very rare model horse for a low price. At BreyerFest, extremely rare models are given out as prizes and raffle items, and all winners are celebrated with enthusiasm by the community at large!
Being a “nerd” at BreyerFest is celebrated, and not just a “model horse nerd”. We have a high amount of cross-over from other niche “nerd” hobbies, like anime, video games, other collectible figurines, and sci-fi/fantasy arenas. It’s almost a complete reversal from the average microcosm of people in an American high school, where the nerdy things are looked down upon.
Overall, this community values kindness, acceptance, helping each other, and the hunt for a good deal. Newcomers are largely enculturated to these values through interactions online, usually through trial and error. The community is not shy about letting somebody know when they are violating a social norm, via real time feedback on social media and discussion forums. As a lifetime member of this community, I’ve found acceptance and lifelong friends. The learning curve may be steep, but it’s worth it.
Thanks again, Erin. That was awesome. I also give it an A+!