Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sweet Onion Live III (2014)

The whole model horse thing is nuts. I mean, some would say the whole endurance thing is nuts, too, and I’d be inclined to agree, but model horses are different. The whole idea of a model horse show makes no sense. Not really. Not when you start asking the obvious questions.

I was judging OF Traditional Breyer this time (feel free to refresh your terminology memory here). 

So, let’s imagine that there was a sale at the local tack/gift shop and literally everyone in town bought the same shiny, new Breyer. They all unpack them at the show and put them on the table. There are, literally, 15 identical horses on the table. They are an industrial commodity, intentionally manufactured to be as uniform as possible. They are widgets. 

Which widget is the best?

That’s what I was there to decide.

I didn’t take good pictures at the show, so I’m going to do a tiny, simulated OF Breyer class for you on my workbench. Let’s call this class “Half/Part Arabian,” which is a class I judged at SwOL.

Here’s how I decide who wins, in order of what I look for.

Presence. Just like at a real horse show, there are usually one or two horses in the class who just draw the eye. I’ll walk around the table, sizing up the whole group and getting a feel for the standouts. (You'll note at a glance that the horse on the far left is much darker than the other two. That might matter later...)

Basic conformation. Some of Breyer’s molds are very realistic and biomechanically correct. Some of them are a virtual pantheon of how not to sculpt a horse. I’ve done enough research to know who’s who. Thank goodness there are only so many molds, so I just have to know like 100 things and not 1,000. (This class has all the same mold, so biomechanics are irrelevant. For the record, this is the Breyer Mariah, and she is pretty good other than an extremely short back and weird ears.)

Breed assignment. Every horse at the show has a leg tag that tells what breed it is supposed to be. This is not necessarily the breed that Breyer put on the box. The owner can also include a notecard to document why they chose that breed for that model. I mentally DQ’d tons of people for bad breed assignments. Some breeds of horse don’t come in certain colors. Some body types aren’t appropriate for some breeds. Some grooming techniques are used on certain breed and not others (i.e.: cobs are shown roached but hunters are shown loose or braided). It sounds harsh, but when there are 15 horses on the table, it’s nice to throw a couple right out of the running so I have a smaller pool of potential winners to work with when I start looking at the nitpicky stuff.

Imagine this is the Part Arab class. Yes, it is absolutely possible that the guy on the left is part arabian, but he isn't really a prime representative of the body type of a horse who is 50% arab or more. Ergo, he would lose in a part arabian class because his owner chose an unlikely breed assignment.
Nitpicky stuff. Scuffs and rubs. Fuzzy paint edges where they should be sharp. Quality of shading. Dust. Yes, sometimes it comes down to dust.

So that's the order of operations for judging OF. A scuffed horse who is a better conformational example beats a pristine trainwreck.

Congratulations! The first round of breed classes is over. Then first and second place from that class come back to be judged in the championship for their group. (In that way, a model horse show is more like a dog show than a horse show—first judge by breed, then by group, then overall against the other group winners.)

Group judging is where things tend to go off the rails for me. Our theoretical Part Arabian champion from the breed class will find herself in the “light breeds” group along with the champions of Arab, Gaited-American, Gaited-Spanish, Non-gaited Spanish, TB, WB, Morgan, etc. So the question in a group class is: Is this Part Arab a better representative of Part Arabs in general than that Gaited Spanish horse is a representative of gaited Spanish horses in general? This is, of course, a nonsense question.

This would be a pretty typical group class. These are all "light breed" horses from different breed classes.

For argument’s sake, let’s say our little Part Arab wins her group. Now she’s in the running for OF overall championship. Now she is likely competing against a Stock horse, a Draft horse, a Pony and an “Exotic,” like a zebra or a donkey, plus the champion of Collectability (which is a whole other can of worms that I am not even going to dignify here).

Championship (dramatization).

At this point, you might as well throw all of their names in a hat and pick from that, because there is no flippin’ way to decide this fairly.

Anyway, I made it all the way through without embarrassing myself or getting yelled at too badly. I call that a win.