Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The doll dilemma

It's a question as old as model horse performance showing itself: Are dolls an essential part of a performance entry?

The traditional answer is no.  Rider dolls have never been required, at least not on this side of the Atlantic. A poorly positioned doll will hurt your entry more than it will help. It's a lot safer - and often smarter - to leave them off.

All of this is true if you're using a big headed Breyer doll with factory boots, but come on... It's 2018. It's been more than five years since Yvonne made her debut, and the hobby is filled with excellent scale seamstresses. Good looking, good riding dolls are not a rarity. They are expensive and fiddly and oftentimes frustrating, but if you really want to be competitive at the national level, dolls are your friends.
performance entries with and without dolls at BreyerFest Live 2018
Here's why. Under my judging system the best score a doll-free entry can receive for the rider component is zero. That's not as bad as it sounds. Remember, a zero means the entry has met the class requirements, no more, no less. To paraphrase the AQHA: The entry is correct with no degree of difficulty. There are a lot of shows where entries that mark consistent zeros can - and should - win.

However, at the national level, most showers aren't content with zeros. There are going to be a lot of well dressed dolls that are getting ones and twos. There might even be a few perfectly posed riders that merit the rare plus three.

To not even try is leaving points on the table. Literally.
Lu Heater's cutting doll gets a plus three
And that's best case scenario. There are some entries that truly require a doll to make sense. If the rider is holding anything besides reins in her hands, the judge really needs to see those hands. Sticky waxing an egg and spoon to the saddle horn isn't convincing and is going to result in a negative score.
riderless Egg and Spoon
photo and entry by Erin Corbett
taken that time she accidentally left all the dolls at home
So, back to that question: Are dolls an essential part of a performance entry? My 2018 answer would be this: Dolls are not required, but a good entry with a good doll is always going to have the edge over a good entry without a doll. If you truly want to succeed at the highest levels of performance showing, you need to embrace your inner Barbie lover.


  1. I always wince a little when I see well-meaning people tell new performance showers that dolls are optional. Yes, it's technically true. But you'll never, ever win a class without a doll unless through some strange series of events there are no entries with dolls. I've shown performance for many years and I HATE dolls, but I'm a realist about having to use them. I get the hesitation on the part of the hobby as a whole to admit that they're basically required, though- top tier dolls are very expensive, and having the appropriate dolls for a full performance show is easily a four figure endeavor.

    1. Just to counterpoint, and I know this is an old post-I had a riderless entry win the parade class at the 2019 Jennifer Show. It can be done BUT you really need everything else to be absolutely perfect. Other entries did have dolls...including my second entry in the class (which did not place)

      I don’t recommend leaving dolls off, but to state it’s not possible to win without one isn’t true.

  2. The last line of this post was meant as a joke. I didn't own Barbies as a kid, or any dolls really except for those that could ride my models. It's one of the great mysteries of life that a little girl who had so little use for dolls is now a grown-up with a serious doll collection.

    That said, I have mostly learned to love them. An entry without a doll is always going to be missing something. By working with my dolls instead of against them, I've moved my showing skills to a whole 'nother level.

  3. I’ve been saying it for years, “everybody needs dolls”. And now I also feel compelled to do a post about how you can do a full performance show with just 2 dolls.

  4. My Mounted Shooting doll that Anne Field made for me made a huge difference at my last show, helping me earn an overall performance Reserve Grand Champion. The judge informed me that I had the only doll in the class that was dressed correctly for the event and my set-up was perfect. Without that, I would not have won.

  5. One question I've had for years is: how poorly does a mediocrely-positioned doll in, let's say, cross-country (where position doesn't matter as much as, say, hunters) impact ones performance entry's results?

    1. I do not require my dolls to ride better than I do. Perfect equitation isn't necessary, but I want the doll to look at least reasonably proficient. So that cross country rider should be balanced over her leg. Her stirrups should be the right length, she should have contact with the horse's mouth and she should be looking where she's going. If her heels are level rather than down... Well, I'm not going to stress over that.