While Halter classes are pretty simple: Basically, make sure your horse is in great condition and place him on the table, Performance Classes are a lot more challenging.
Performance Entry Requirements
1) A horse. Obviously! The horse should be moving correctly for the move you state he's performing. Is he cutting a cow, approaching a jump, closing a gate in trail class? Does he LOOK like that's what he's doing?
2) Tack. Tack is required for Performance classes in our show. It can be homemade, purchased from a tack maker, Breyer brand, or whatever. The important things to check are:
Is it the right tack for the class? (Are those bell boots allowed in that class at real shows?)
Does it fit the horse properly? You may have to make some adjustments to it to make it fit like it would on a real horse. Trimming the end of the leather straps so they're not sticking out a long way past a buckle is one example. If you took a photo of your horse in his tack, is it sized correctly? does the saddle sit where it should? Is the noseband in the right place? Is the front of the bit ring positioned at the corner of the horse's mouth? (That's in bold because it's one that's often missed.) Most model showers use dental wax to hold the bit ring in place so it's "in" the horse's mouth. A flopping ring doesn't look realistic and will be marked down, so it's time to beg some wax from a friend who has braces!
Also, is the leather itself in scale with your horse? Thick leather looks fake - If it were on a real horse, it would stick out ridiculously far from his face, right? You don't want that. Here examples to help you learn how to see tack on models:
Improperly sized tack:
This sidesaddle set is too large for the model... The saddle reaches way back over the horse's rump, the girth is too far back, and the noseband and bit ring are almost at the muzzle. (Photo from eBay.)
Properly sized tack:
This tack fits this model beautifully. Straps are all in the right places, his splint boots are perfectly fit, and the leather used is thin enough to look realistic. This set was made by Heather Good from NH. This was an impromptu picture taken at our store and we didn't put the bit back in his mouth on the far side. Whoops!
3) Props. In Performance, props can make or break your entry. These are very artistic classes. Everything other than a simple rail class (Western Pleasure, etc) will probably need props to demonstrate the horse's ability in that class. Make sure your props are stable so they won't tip over. Also, they need to be sized to match your horse and positioned correctly (more on both of those in a minute).
At the least, you'll want to include a "floor" or base as part of their performance entry. This is usually a thin piece of plywood with felt on the bottom so it doesn't scratch the table. It can also be foamboard, posterboard, felt or a shallow dish with sand in it. It should be appropriately colored for the type of ground your horse would be performing this event on. To simulate an arena, you can coat the top with glue and sprinkle sand on it. For grass, some people paint it green or use green felt. Study photos of real horses doing the activity you're depicting and look at the props used at real shows. For example, you might add plants or other accessories that are appropriate to telling the entry's story. Model train stores and craft stores are often great places to find props, and there are lots of video tutorials online to help you make your own.
The benefit of including a solid floor is that you might decide to permanently mount your obstacle or props to it to make setting up in the show ring fast and easy: Plop down the obstacle and then all you have to worry about is horse and tack!
[Trail class bridge obstacle with "floor" and backdrop. Bridge by HoboCat Creations.]
Keep in mind that shows have rules regarding the maximum size your entry can be, and that includes everything: horse, props, documentation, etc. For our show, the maximum space you can use is 24" long and 18" deep.
4) Documentation. At a live horse show, the judge would know what dressage pattern you're doing and what maneuver is coming up. At a model show, you need to let them know. Each performance entry needs to have a paper accompanying it that describes the sport and possibly level of difficulty that you are depicting along with the specific maneuver.
Your description paper can be business-card sized or up to a full sheet of paper. It needs to include an image of the pattern for the class with a mark to show where in the pattern the horse is, as well as your written description of what he's performing. Here's a great set of examples by Jill O'Connor:
Here are two differently-sized jumps shown against the same horse. Both are scaled for Traditionals, but one is for a higher-level jumper than the other. Here's where your documentation will explain the size of the jump you choose:
2-foot Adirondack Chair Jump
This jump would be about two feet tall to a real horse. It comes up to this Traditional's knee.
This would be great documented as being for a local show or novice classes at a regional show.
3-foot 6-inch Lighthouse Jump
This jump comes up to the bottom of the horse's chest, making it translate to about 3' 6" in real world terms.
This obstacle is for a higher-level competition, so be sure your documentation is for a class that would include this size jump.
This is a huge part of making your entry look realistic and bringing home ribbons! A jump that's obviously too tall for the horse is a problem. So is a trail gate or keyhole too small for the horse and rider to use properly.
Breyer Traditional horses are 1-to-9 scale, which means that one inch for them is equal to about nine inches on a real horse. So everything you make for them should be about 1/9th the size of the real item.
Classics are 1-to-12 scale, so one inch on them equals a foot in real life. CollectAs and Schleich are approximately 1-to-24 scale, and Stablemates are 1-to-32 scale.
A good way to check your scale is to set up your entry at home, take a photo, and then compare it to photos of real horses doing the same maneuver. Does your horse look too big or small for the obstacle or props? The same goes for handler, riders, and other animals. If you include any of these (optional) in your entry, they need to be the proper size for the horse.
If your entry includes a jump or other obstacle, you also need to insure your horse is positioned correctly. If your horse is jumping, for example, can you imagine the arc his body will travel over the jump, and is he positioned so that he'd clear the jump at a realistic height? If he's approaching the jump, is he spaced so he has a stride between him and the takeoff point to gather and take off?
If he's cutting a cow, is he making eye contact with the cow? Is he angled to mirror the cow's move?
If he's backing through an "L" in Trail Class, is he positioned straight and centered between the rails, and are they the correct width apart for his size?
Here's a great example of positioning: The horse below has his head down, looking at the obstacle and has one foreleg raised higher than a normal walk, so he's obviously stepping onto or over something. His owner has positioned him stepping up onto a bridge in Trail class - Perfect!
Performance classes are the most challenging at a model horse show, but also have a lot of room for creativity! If you decide to enter one, it will take some time to make (or get) props, and you should practice setting it up at home several times to figure out what might go wrong at a show.
Shoot, that ground pole keeps rolling away! That's not something you want to discover when there's two minutes left before the class starts. By practicing your set-up, you will know to either fasten that pole to an "arena floor" or sand it down a little on one side so that it won't roll.
Does that jump cup keep falling out? Glue it at home. The bit won't stay in the horse's mouth? You may need to find more dental wax to hold it in place better.
With some creativity, attention to detail, and practice, you'll be making performance entries to compete with the best in Region X and beyond.
This lovely circus liberty performance entry by Lindy Pinkham was rewarded with a championship.
Here are a few of the great tack and prop makers in our area:
HoboCat Creations - Amber makes jumps, obstacles, and show halters. She made the bridge in the two Trail Class photos in this article. She may be at our fall show with some props for sale.
Heather Good - Model show tack. Heather made the Western tack set shown in our "properly sized tack" photo above. She will be at our show and may have tack for sale.
Treasure Chest Stable - Jennifer posts her tack and props on her Facebook page when available, and is happy to answer questions from beginning tack and prop makers.
Sunny Shamrock Farm - Lindy Pinkham specializes in circus tack, custom etched models, and mini "Dream Horses." Lindy made the tack in the circus photo in this article. She sells her pieces mainly on eBay.
These are just four tack and prop makers that we know personally, and who live in Maine or NH. There are lots of others, too!
One who lives further away but ships her lovely tack to customers around the world is Jennifer Buxton of Braymere Saddlery. Jennifer made the eventing tack for the cross-country entry at the top of this article.