By Jef Rietsma
Collector? Susan Harper.
Collection? Model horses.
You’ve had a love of horses most of your life, correct? “From about the age of four, horses have been my most-pervasive, long-lasting love. We used to live in Grove City, Ohio, across the railroad tracks from Beulah Park, a horse-race track, and I used to sneak away from home and spend as much time as I could there. It’s a crazy passion … everything about horses I’ve loved, being near them, riding them, petting them, caring for them. I loved cleaning their stalls … anything to do with horses. Even their odor, it drives me whack-o. I’ve read all the Walter Farley books, all the Marguerite Henry books. In a way, my love for all things horses was a huge debilitation because I couldn’t see my way to anything else.”
When and how did your collection begin? “There’s a company called Breyer and they’re extremely well-known to anybody who knows anything about horses. They started making model horses in 1950 and they’ve been going strong ever since. Well, as a kid, of course, I always wanted Breyer model horses but my mother wouldn’t pay for them; she was a widow. Eventually, though, she relented and that first one depicted a thoroughbred that I named Sireson.”
How many model horses, Breyer and others, are in your collection? “I don’t have an exact number but, if you count even the small ones, easily more than a thousand. As a kid, I didn’t have very many but I’ve enjoyed collecting as an adult. If I buy a new one, I buy two so I can take one out of the box and play with it, and I leave one in the box to keep its mint-in-box value.”
Where do you acquire most of your pieces? “There’s a phenomenal model-horse event annually at Kentucky Horse Park in Louisville, it’s called Breyerfest and it’s named after the Breyer model-horse company. It’s held every July and I have attended. It’s really quite a gathering. But I go up to Wayland to a tack shop called Jackson’s Western Store.”
What would you estimate the value of your collection? “I would never expect to get as much back from them compared to what I’ve paid for them. But I’ve put probably tens of thousands of dollars into the collection.”
What’s the most you ever paid for a model horse? $375. It’s a limited-edition, hand-painted model that depicts a horse by the name of Sol de Oro. It’s a Breyer horse that’s made of a higher-quality material. Sol de Oro was the most famous Peruvian Paso stallion that ever lived. I don’t remember where I got it, though.”
Is there an extremely rare piece you own? “Every year since the 1990s, Breyer has released a holiday horse at Christmas time. I have every figure dating to the first one, released 25 years ago.”
Have you ever owned horses? “Over the years, starting when I was in my 20s, I’ve owned maybe 60 or so. I bought, raised and sold saddlebreds. The last horses I owned, I had four of them and kept them boarded with a gal down on XY Avenue. She had girls who loved horses, too, so she ended up buying them.”
Footnotes: Harper, 77, is a Vicksburg resident. She is single, has no children and is contemplating parting ways with most of her collection. Harper said she would consider passing some pieces onto 4-H or horse clubs interested in caring for her collection and introducing it to a new generation of horse lovers. Her collection also includes a 50-piece series called “Painted Ponies” and a Breyer sub-series called “Stable Mates.”