Western Horses

Posted by Eleda Towle on

Breyer's Western Horse is its most recognizable mold, and its very first.  Almost every collector has at least one, and many actively collect them, seeking out not only all the colors, but all the variations of color and tack styles.  We'll be doing a special tribute to the Western Horse in June, with over 30 models going live over two Fridays during the month!  (Click here to see the models when they are listed on June 1 and June15!)

Breyer Palomino Western Horse

Says Anni from Michigan:

I love the Breyer Western Horse tribute!  My first Breyer was the Palomino Western Horse!  Her name is Sugar and my Mom gave her to me while I was in the hospital fighting pneumonia.  It was back in 1968 or 69.  Sugar still stands proudly in my "Breyer Room" as the matriarch.

Eleda's first Western Horse also has a story:

I was a teenager, out on a camping trip with my older sister, and we decided to take a trip into town.  We went into a little antique shop to see if there were any horses that needed a home, and she spotted a beat-up palomino Western Horse on a shelf - no saddle, no reins.  I didn't collect the mold at the time, and it wasn't worth half what they were asking, but she was so excited that she had found me a Breyer that I bought him and let her name him for me.  She passed away unexpectedly just a few years later, so "El Dorado" is a treasured member of my herd, holding a very special memory of my sister.  He became the overseer of a growing conga of Western Horses and Ponies in my collection.

You may notice that one collector considers hers a mare while another considers hers to be male.  In fact, the mold is genderless, lending it to whatever gender you wish to assign.

Take a trip with us through the history of Breyer's first animal mold and it's longest-running release.  Changes to tack, colors, and even the mold itself make this a fascinating model to collect and a treat for Breyer history buffs.

Breyer began making Western Horses in 1950.  These earliest horses were sold to MasterCrafter and mounted on bases with MasterCrafter clocks.  Beginning in 1951, the horses were available for sale by themselves for the first time.  That first year, a white horse and a palomino were offered, called "Western Mount Horses."  Eventually that was shortened to Western Horses, and like all Breyer models, more colors were introduced over time, including a solid black, a black pinto, and a palomino pinto.  The most popular of all, though, continued to be the palomino, who became Breyer's longest-running release, continuing for forty years, through 1991!

Every release that continues for a long period will experience changes over time, plus accidental variations.  This is probably true nowhere more than with the Western Horse, since it was their first foray into animal molding.  They had a lot of learning and refining to do, so collecting these guys is like taking a walk through Breyer history.  The first mold by Breyer was a pretty close copy of the Hartland Western Horse.  Before long, the mane on the Breyer was moved to the opposite side and the diamond conchos that copied Hartland were changed to round conchos.

In the beginning, Breyer also followed Hartland by using the same style reins.  Known to collectors as O-link reins, they were made of what look like hand-made metal rings.  In 1953 they changed to the twisted bracelet-link reins still in use today.

 
Breyer Western Horse Reins comparison - O-link left, bracelet-link right
Breyer Western Horse Reins comparison:   O-link left, bracelet-link right
 
The saddle also changed over time, too, and several versions have been discovered.  The earliest saddles (on the clocks) were cinchless, but when Breyer began selling the models themselves, they added a vinyl cinch, first with a buckle closure, which was quickly changed to a snap.  The earliest snap-cinch saddles had their cinches attached by rivets high up on the stirrup fenders. 
Breyer Western Horse Saddle - early high rivet snap-cinch version  
Having the metal rivets lying against the model caused a lot of scratches and paint loss, so it appears that somewhere between 1955 and 1958, the process was changed to attach the cinch lower on the fenders, so the rivets didn't touch the model.  They also started folding the ends of the vinyl straps down over the rivets for extra protection.
Breyer Western Horse Saddle - low rivet snap-cinch version  
Below:underside of a low-rivet saddle showing cinch strap folded over the rivet:
Breyer Western Horse Saddle, Low-Rivet version showing folded cinch strap
The final big change occurred in 1968, when a whole new saddle mold was made, without a cinch, called the slip-on saddle.  That version continues in use today.
Breyer Western Horse Saddle - slip-on version
 
While these are the biggest differences between the saddles, more versions have been discovered:  On some of the snap-cinch saddles, the pinwheels on the fenders "spin" the same way; on others, they spin in opposite directions on the left and right sides.  Some have fenders that angle forward more than down.  Some have felt pads protecting the rivets.  Then there are the color variations, both on the saddle and on the shading/accents. While most of the brown snap-cinch saddles have gold accents, some have silver accents, like the one in the second photo above.
 
The horses' colors evolved during their runs, too. They vary from a light, buttery palomino to a a golden caramel to a rich sorrel color.  Some early palominos have sooty grey-brown shading in their manes and tails that is sometimes mistaken for dirt.  The earliest palominos had black hooves, but they were quickly changed to grey.  Early eyes were often charcoal grey or even metallic gold, but the gold used has tarnished with time to make them look a lot like the grey-eyed models when seen today.  Eventually Breyer settled on using black eyes.
 
Then there are the chalkies and partial chalkies on the palomino release. These include the eariest known base-coat chalky models... Two we received have the original O-ring reins, dating them to the early 1950s.  Instead of raw plastic showing in their white areas, they have a base-coat of white paint.  Some only show this on their faces, while others show base-coat in their socks as well, and some are completely base-coated.
 
We won't even go into the other variations, like the bump on the back of early models, or the clocks, lamps, and night lights...  With all the nuances and history, this is such a fun model to collect!
 
We'd love to hear your Western Horse-related stories in the comments below!
 
For more images and variations, Identify Your Breyer has posted a full page using our photos with dating estimates to help you estimate when yours was made.  Their excellent page can be found here:  http://www.identifyyourbreyer.com/WestHorseVariations.htm
 
(Please note - Dating these old guys is not an exact science.  Breyer didn't keep written records of their changes to releases back then, so most of the dates mentioned above come from research based on collectors who bought models new in certain years, as well as the memories of long-time Breyer employees interviewed by collectors and researchers.)
 
Thanks to Dede Price for corrections and updates.  See her comment below for more info!

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  • I hope you don’t mind a correction to the above info. Breyer Western Horses have always had the round conchos only and Hartlands always had the diamond-shaped. That is actually the easiest way to tell them apart. And the early Hartlands had the mane on the same side as the Breyers, so you can’t go by which side the mane is on. You can also tell them apart by the hooves, which are more rounded or convex on the Breyer and have a straight profile on Hartland. See Mike Jackon’s Hartland page for detailed information on the clock horses by both Hartland and Breyer. (there’s a photo on there showing the difference in the hooves) http://www.myhartlands.com/pages/MastercraftersClocks.html There is a Clock Horse Research Group that researched this information in depth. I was in the most recent version of the group myself. Sande Schneider (also in the group) is a great source for information on Western Horses. She has a Facebook page called Vintage Horse and Rider Sets; I have one called Western Horse and Pony Lovers. There are tons of great photos and info on both pages. Between us we have hundreds of these horses and ponies — we love them! :) (Susan Tank, also on the committee, has a really huge collection of WHs too with many variations.) Sande has been in the hobby a very long time and knows a lot of details and history about both Breyers and Hartlands — and about rider sets. She was friends with Nancy Young, and Nancy was also involved with the Clock Horse Research Group. Some of the discoveries they made came out after her books were published. BTW the earliest Hartland horses of this style were called “Victor” and later ones are “Champ.” Love that you’re doing this. The WH doesn’t get enough attention … which is why we started our Facebook pages.

    Deirdre (Dede) Price on

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