An earlier version of this article appeared in THE HOBBY HORSE NEWS, Issue 38: February 1995-March 1995. Links to this page, and reprints of this article in model horse publications are permitted. Just let me know that you are doing so!
Breeding model horses is how many of us first got started in the hobby when we were young. It is one of the least expensive ways to be involved in the hobby and, if it is done correctly, can teach you a lot about real horses. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most easily misunderstood aspects of the model horse hobby, especially by non-hobbyists.
Let’s start be defining what we mean by “breeding model horses.” Obviously, you cannot really breed two non-living model horses together in order to produce a third one–no matter that it sometimes seems like they reproduce at will on the shelves, especially to a non-hobbyist spouse! A much more accurate term for what we do when we say we are “breeding” model horses is pedigree assignment, because we are really assigning a pedigree to a model by selecting a fictitious sire and dam for it. Some people like to research real horse pedigrees and select real stallions and mares to be the parents of their models, while others prefer to use model stallions and mares. Either way is acceptable in the hobby.
So why would anyone want to do pedigree assignments for models anyway? For those of us that choose to do pedigree assignments, it lends an additional air of realism to the hobby by allowing us to choose just the right horses to breed to produce a foal, just like real horse breeders do. Of course, we have an advantage in that we usually already have the “foal” and we then work backwards to select the parents that we think could have produced the foal, but you can also select the parents first and then buy or create just the right foal to be produced from the parents that you selected.
Whether you decide to use real horses or models as the parents of your model, it can be quite fun to research a breed and learn which stallions and mares are considered to be the best sires and dams of their breed. It is also very educational and can teach you about the breed in general. When choosing a sire or dam for your model, there are several things to consider. These suggestions apply whether you use real horses or other models.
First, take a good look at your model. Almost every breed of horse or pony has a variety of bloodlines which are known for producing particular traits, and you will need to decide which bloodline most closely fits your model’s characteristics or which bloodlines you prefer within a particular breed. Once you have decided on the bloodlines, then you need to research the sires and dams within the breed that produce the type that you have chosen. If you really get into this kind of researching, you can study the records for several generations back, examining the breeding programs of various successful breeders and seeing what their breeding programs have produced. Then you can compile a list of several possible sires and dams to choose from for your model’s parents. Sources for pedigree research include magazines and books about the breed, and if you can get access to them, a breed’s stud books. Some libraries will have copies of these available.
Researching real horse breeding has a definite advantage if you are ever in a position to buy a real horse, too, because you will already have a good idea of what breeding you want! I know, because I used to own a real Arabian mare with breeding very similar to what I have in my model Arabian breeding program. Other hobbyists have also done this.
Another equally important factor to consider when choosing parents for your model is color. There are certain laws of genetics that apply to horse color and you should be familiar with the basics of these so that you can choose parents that will be the most likely to produce a horse the color of your model. This is not always easy with original finish models as the manufacturers do not always research the colors acceptable for a breed before they produce it!
A simple rule of thumb to follow in choosing the color of parents for your model is that if the color is dominant, you should have at least one of the parents the same basic color as the “foal.” Examples of dominant colors are grey, roan, pinto and appaloosa. All grey horses, for example, will have at least one grey parent. Recessive colors can occur from parents of almost any color, because recessive genes can stay hidden for generations until two parents carrying that gene are bred together. Chestnut is completely recessive to all other horse colors, so almost any horse can produce a chestnut. But two chestnut parents will never produce anything but chestnut foals, because chestnuts cannot carry any hidden genes.
You will discover in your research that certain lines of horses also tend to produce lots of white markings (sometimes called “high white”), while some tend to produce almost no markings at all. Most of this time, this is related to the roan/pinto pattern called sabino. This is why you can get outcrop Paints from Quarter Horses or Arabians with body spots. Roans will also show up in certain bloodlines of various breeds. Paints, Pintos, Appaloosas, and other color breeds should always have at least one parent of the same pattern. Tobiano and overo pintos are the result of two different genes, so tobianos will not produce overos and vice versa. The same is true with some appaloosa patterns; the gene that produces leopards is separate from the gene that produces varnish roans. Picking a parent with the same type of pattern or base color as your foal is the surest way to choose a realistic parent if you are not really familiar with the genetics governing patterns.
The Age Factor
If you choose to use real horses as the parents of your model, you should also consider the age of the prospective parents. If using real horses, you should pick parents that are the correct age to have sired or foaled your model. For example, most hobbyists will not use Man O’ War as the sire of a Thoroughbred model, even if it is one made to represent this famous horse. The real Man O’ War died much too long ago to have sired a living horse today! If you really want Man O’ War bloodlines for your model, it would be best to get information on a stallion and mare that are descended from him, but are still living or that died recently enough that your model could have been one of their foals, and then use them as the parents of your model. Secretariat is also now dead, and any model sired by him should be old enough to have been part of his last foal crop or an earlier one.
Using Other Models as Parents
The above pretty much covers what you need to do if you want to use real horses as the parents of your models, but what do you do if you want to use other models that belong to someone else?
The first thing to do is look through various hobby publications and find people who are advertising their sire and dam lists. Once you have written to them and have several lists on hand, you can look through these to see if there are any you like. Again, you should consider breed, type, and color when choosing parents. Many hobbyists who let others use their models as sires and dams charge a small “stud fee,” usually anywhere from 10¢ to $1. Sometimes they may take postage stamps instead of cash, or they may want a photo of the foal for their records. In return for this fee, you should get a breeder’s certificate, signed by the owner of the sire and/or dam, and a pedigree. Most pedigrees will show at least three generations, back to the great-grandparents, and many even more.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Since this article was originally written in 1995, the world wide web has drastically changed the way hobbyists now use other models as parents. The vast majority no longer charge for their models services as a sire or dam and breeding certificates are sent electronically via email. In addition, sire and dam lists are available to view online. Click here to see a list of IPABRA member’s sire & dam websites.)
When you are hunting for a model dam for your model, check to see what rules the owner has for how many foals the mare can have, and what years the model mare still has open for foals. Some hobbyists restrict their mares to one foal per year because real horses have only one foal per year (rarely, twins). Some hobbyists allow their mares to have multiple foals per year, and say this is possible now because of the technology of “embryo transfer.” But this is not really very realistic; it is very difficult to get a real mare pregnant more than once a year, and even harder to have her cycle at the same time as the host mare (the mare that is to carry the foal until it is born) so that the embryo can be transferred. Horses are just not as compatible with this type of technology as cattle and some other animals seem to be. Even with embryo transfer now being used with some very valuable mares, most real horse registries will not allow more than one foal, or at most two, to be registered per mare per year.
You should also consider the age of the model mare and stallion that you chose. In real life, stallions are not usually mature enough to breed a mare until they are two years of age. Therefore, model stallions probably should not sire foals until they are two or three. Also, young stallions are usually only bred to a few mares for the first two or three years of their career at stud. Mares are usually not mature enough to be bred until three or four years of age, preferably four, which means they won’t actually have their first foal until age four or five.
Lesli Kathman has developed a unique system of ages for her models. In many breeds of horses certain lines have died out, generally because they produced a color that was not popular with real horse people at the time, but might be desirable today. Model horse hobbyists like to see these unusual colors on their models, but where are they to find parents of the right age for their horses? Sometimes they can find this by turning to the history books and using horses of the appropriate era. This is what Lesli has done. Lesli’s system is called Era Specific Aging, and an article about it was published in an issue of Bloodlines, the newsletter for IPABRA. (This article can be found online at the main IPABRA website.)
Standing Your Own Model Horse Sires and Dams to the Public
If you want to allow your model horses to be sires or dams, you should first make a list of all the horses that you will be allowing others to use–this is your sire and dam list. On it, you should list the model’s name, its parents (also grandparents if you wish), its age or date foaled, its breed and sex, a description of the model (color, markings, make), and the years you are allowing the model to have foals. Here is an example from my own Arabian Sire and Dam list:
RAUN f.1983. First foal crop in 1987. Black, star. Amarna Arabian Stallion Resin finished by the sculpting artist, Liz Bouras. Express registered, ARR# 2811. Sire: Altair (Fa-Serr ® X Jet ®) Dam: *Ashanome (El Sareei X Halima) Breeder: Starhold. Sire is straight Babson Egyptian, dam is EAO breeding. Raun is a National Champion & Top Ten Winner in photo show, and a MSW in MARA-ABC. He set track records at 6f & 1M. He has sired photo show, live show, (including several NAN-qualified get), and NOR race winners. Sire of Express MSW/CH filly RAVYN, MSW filly RAHET & SW colt HABARAUN, Sp colt Brendan, NOR SW & Express SW colt Torren. Has sired 70% black foals from more than 30 get. I prefer that his foals names start with an “R” if possible.
You will need to keep detailed records of all the foals that your stallions sire and your mares produce. Many hobbyists restrict the number of foals a mare may have to one a year for the sake of realism; if you don’t write down the years used in your mare’s record, you might accidentally allow her to have 2 foals in one year by different stallions! (This would only be possible in real horses with embryo transfer and, as previously noted, this is a difficult thing to have happen.) Some clubs may even require you to send in copies of sire and dam records, but even if they don’t, you will want to have careful records. This way you won’t get confused and end up with a stallion that has get older than he is, or a mare that has been “litter bred” (had several foals per year.)
There are a couple of advantages to using real horses over models for pedigree assignment. One is that you don’t have to pay anyone a stud fee to use a real horse. (Don’t even think about trying to explain to a non-hobbyist person with a real stallion at stud that you want to breed your plastic mare to his very live stallion.) Another is that once you have several of your own model horses with real pedigrees, then you can use them as your “foundation stock” and have your other models be their foals and grand-foals. This way you set up your own breeding program, just like a real horse breeder. You can also offer these models as sires and dams for other people. It can be very satisfying to have models from your own “breeding program” do well in the show ring. If you want to use models instead of real horses, that is fine, too. There are many models in the hobby that are quite famous (like Linda Walter’s model Appaloosa stallion, *Alconbury Hill) that hobbyists would like to use as sires or dams. There are many models out there with good pedigrees behind them, and you should look at several lists before making up your mind. NOTE: Be sure to contact the OWNER of the model before you use his or her horse as the parent of yours; people do not appreciate it if you use their models without permission!
Pedigree assignment, or model breeding, is not for everybody because it can be very time consuming, but it can definitely add an interesting dimension to the hobby if do you choose to do it. I’d be happy to help you out if you have more questions.