Emotional Support Collections

Posted by Eleda Towle on

Nearly all collectors feel an emotional attachment to their collections.  They've been built lovingly over a lifetime.  Some people (non-collectors) consider it weird to care for "items" this way, and some collectors are pressured to sell their collections by those who don't understand, so I'm here to throw some light on the subject:  Emotional attachments to our herds are a wonderful thing!  I call it Pony Therapy.  But why do we feel so strongly about our models?  Everyone is different, but there are a couple of reasons that generally underlie most collectors' love of their herds.

First, most of us began collecting when we were young.  It's very likely no one would buy us that real pony we wanted, no matter how many books we read about horses or how many drawing we made of our dream horse, or how many times we begged.  Our first model horse was either given to us by someone special, or we saved our money to buy one we saw at a local store.  Those first models are special - They started out as proxy for the real horse we dreamed of, but going forward they remind us of that moment we fell in love with model horses. They also recall the special gift or the achievement of earning the money to purchase them.  Many of us keep these first models forever, and seeing them still makes us smile, no matter what condition they're in.  They're like old friends who have been loyal and kind for years, always there for us through life's ups and downs.

Eleda's very first model horses "Bobby and Sindy," still in her collection

 [My very first horses were this pair of small, grey ponies.  Since the Brady Bunch was popular at the time, I named them Bobby and Sindy after the two youngest kids on the show.  They still have pride-of-place in my collection.]


Another factor is that while most adults don't like to admit it, kids have just as much stress in their lives as the adults.  It may revolve around different subjects, but it is no less because of that.  And young people have a lot less control over their lives than adults, which can add to that stress.  I have found that those with collections - while they can still struggle - seem to generally weather those challenges better than those without.  There are no scientific studies to back this up; it's simply my experience, knowing a lot of young people and a lot of collectors.  Collections give us a much-needed distraction when the world seems to be out to get us as kids (and adults!).  We can hold a model, turn him around in our hands, admire his beautiful muscling, flowing mane, determined expression, and feel that we have an ally.  Having a shelf of his friends keeping an eye on us makes us feel that we have a small army standing with us.


Family Arabian Stallion glossy grey Appaloosa - My first Breyer model
[This sweet old fellow was my very first Breyer model.  When I was given a second one, that one in glossy palomino, it was my "Eureka!" moment, as I realized, "They make these in more than one color?!?!?"  That's when my collecting began in earnest.]

As we get older, we look back on all the things we've gone through, and how through it all, our horses were with us.  To outsiders, they may seem like inanimate objects, but to us, they are Memory Keepers.  They carry our happy memories and remind us of them: Playing with them with friends, taking models out on adventures, receiving them as gifts from people we love.  And they seem to buffer the bad memories, reminding us that those things happened in the past, but the models were with us then and still are... Bad things change, but good things remain.  That's a huge comfort.


Western Prancer my dad rescued from certain doom
[This Western Prancer with his broken ears always has a special place here, because my dad rescued him when someone dumped a box of Breyer horses into a trash compactor at the local dump.  He was the only one he could save, he told me sadly... Because he had chain reins, he was able to snag him with a long, hooked pole. His ears were broken when he was dumped into the compactor, and his saddle was lost.  I'll always remember how Dad brought him to me like a treasure, and how his eyes said he was sad he couldn't save the others.]

Often, collectors are pressured to sell their collections, and this is especially true for women.  Society still expects women to act "respectable," which means, for some reason, that if we spend money on anything outside of home, clothing, and necessities, we often get disapproving glances.  Men face this disapproval, also, but less often.  It's more often accepted that men collect knives or guns... Why shouldn't we all collect something that brings us joy?  We should!

The stresses of being an adult are well-known, and it always seems to be the most stressed among our relatives or friends that disparage our collecting... Almost as if misery loves company or something.  Hmmmm...

As an adult, not only does our collection continue to provide emotional support and remind us of positive memories when we're going through difficult times, but there's a new aspect as well:  The treasure hunt.  Collectors often don't spend money on name brand clothing, expensive makeup, and other transient "stuff."  We prefer to save our money for models we'll have for years or a lifetime.  Discovering one at an antique store or hunting one down online is a rewarding experience that adds to the cache of positive memories held by our herd.

FAM & FAF lamp found in a stable attic
[I discovered this lamp in the attic storeroom of a stable that was for sale, during an open house tour of the facility.  I was about 13, and asked the owner on the spot if I could buy it.  I paid $15 for it, coated heavily in dust.]

I've seen both the grief of people whose models were sold without their permission and the relief models can bring to someone having a rough time.  The photo below is a very special one.  It was sent to us by Ariel and posted here with her permission.  Her beloved husband Michael passed away unexpectedly recently.  He wasn't a collector, but of all horses, he loved the color of buckskins, so among some of the things that remind her of him that she has collected on his bureau, she has placed some buckskin models.  The Akhal Teke is a custom she commissioned in tribute to him, and she purchased the pinto in the back as she was bringing Michael's ashes home.  They don't remove the grief, but they break up the sadness just a bit by sharing these beautiful models with him.


Michael's desk - sent by Ariel 

I think it demonstrates how important models are to collectors going through unimaginable times.  Our heart is with her.

Another collector, Lauren Tague says:

"I am so grateful that I held onto my collection (and that my parents didn't insist that I get rid of them) when I first went to college. My horses each have a story--I look back at them and I don't just see models: I see birthdays, family celebrations, special events.... I remember what was going on in my life and the people who helped me get each model. Even if a model reminds me of a difficult season in life, it represents a bright spot within it.

Although I have sold or donated some models that I simply didn't care for, I have always kept the core of my herd. That said, I have also gone through the very deep, very real pain of selling particularly special models only to realize too late how special they were. I've gone through phases of getting bright ideas like "I'm not collecting this mold, or I'm getting rid of this type of model"... but I am also starting to understand that the older I get, I look at my models differently.

Just the other day, I was looking at some models that I had set aside to potentially give to a young cousin. Now, of course I'm all for spreading the Breyer bug, and these were models I'd had set aside for more than a year and didn't think I'd miss. But I picked up "Pine," the Shetland Pony, looked at her sassy expression...and a wry smile spread across my face. I remembered the stories I used to act out with my models as a kid, and the specific role she'd had in them. I admired her very nice 90's bi-eyes. I didn't even care that she is scratched up or is on a mold I don't particularly like. I kept smiling and put her right back over with my collection! Even though about half of the herd has to be in storage right now, as I'm out of room, it's not worth giving up her memories."

You are spot-on, Lauren, and I think that's an important message both for collectors and everyone who has a collector in their life.  Our collections really do provide emotional support, particularly for those of us who are introverted.  If something happens to them, we grieve. When we get a new addition, we celebrate.  And for concerned relatives, don't worry.  We've never known a collector who has starved or lost their home because they spent that money on models.  We're not addicts; we have a healthy hobby.  (Maybe you should worry more about that relative who is collecting guns or knives?) 

Instead, what we have is a safe, healthy escape from the bad news in the world and in our lives that so many people need and can't find.  If you're a collector, you know just what I mean.  An hour spent among our collection, enjoying different models, recalling their memories and appreciating them for what they are, can be very refreshing and encouraging.

If you're not a collector but know one, appreciate that they have this beautiful way to care for themselves when times are difficult, and to celebrate their successes.  They help us remain well-adjusted and resilient through the craziness of life.  I always say, "No model horse collector ever started a war."  [Maybe we should send model horses to world leaders?]   During an emotional time, you can show them you understand and care by bringing them a model for their herd.  It could be a new model from our site or a local store, or something you find at a flea market, it doesn't matter. It doesn't even matter if they already have the exact same model.  Not only will they appreciate that you understand the concept of Pony Therapy, but you will have just added to the positive memories that their collection stores up to be used during troubled times.


Sometimes one just needs to be surrounded by model horses
[Pony Therapy - Sometimes we just need to be surrounded by model horses!]

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  • I often cry over damaged models.

    Ashley on
  • As a young collector whose Misty and Stormy models helped me get through a emotional and physicialy tough year this was a wonderful article. I have these same feelings for some of my horses. This article nearly made me cry.

    Ashley on
  • So grateful that i saw this today. However sad life may become, I still have my old friends around me and can be comforted by them. Right there is my black Tobiano Western Pony who’s been with me over 50 years, and always will be.

  • LOVE this! I think every one of us has these ties and feelings which some folks will just never understand.

    Shannon T Rodgers on
  • This article is spot on and so well written. I was lucky and have all my Hartlands and Breyers. But when we moved at one point all of my Johnny West horses and riders got lost. I got some back via ebay but they weren’t mine. I started collecting Hartland horses. Best Christmas ever getting the pinto family. My mom was so clever and made 2 lamps. The alabaster running mare and charcoal running foal. Then she made a smaller lamp with the black pinto shetland pony. I ended up with the models after the lamps broke. Also my appaloosa western prancing horse broke a leg and mom fixed it with a metal rod up through the hoof and leg. I became a Surgical Tech. my specialty was Orthopedic trauma. Mom also went to shows with thank goodness she kept my horses organized for classes. My mom passed away and I found for a long time I didn’t go to shows. Have started agian going to shows. I’m not as organized. There are so many memories as I look at my ponies. Silverado I got the notice to purchase him the day my brother got orders to go to Iraq. Silverado was my genie. I would dust him and pray. After a year my brother came home safe!! Thankyou for putting my feelings towards my herd into words!!

    Anne Hugill on

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