by Didi Hornberger
How many times has your "black" model horse brought home a blue ribbon? If you can answer even "once", you are in a rare minority.
In a hobby where model horse "color" judging focuses intensely on refined painting details such as shading, dappling, corn spots, mottling, striping, spotting, and intense color contrasts, "black" horses are usually considered too "plain" to be worthy of competing successfully against their flashier, splashier cousins. Even with an abundance of showy white markings, or often realistic other colors added to a black base coat, such as red, blue, amber, brown, or purple, or the addition of silver dapples, the black model horse often comes up short in the show ring. Most people leave their black models at home even if they love them, figuring they have little chance of catching a judges' eye. That's just the way it is.
So it's always a huge challenge to get those black models out there to show successfully. However, this is just the type of challenge that a lot of us really like, and we may go to great lengths to see whether we can bring out one of our favorite blacks, and still go home with a blue ribbon with it in a respectable-sized show class!
Here are a few considerations for the successful black model show horse, as relate to their real counterparts.
Certain real breeds select exclusively for one color or another, excluding all other colors into their breed registries. While this does not mean that other colors actually do not "exist" in that breed, (and these other colors may be just as "purely bred" as the ones of the "selected color",) it does mean that any horse which is NOT born of the selected color will be ineligible in that organization for formal registry, or for "purebred" breeding purposes.
The Friesian horse is one pure breed which selects exclusively for black coloring in their registry. Most registries allow only a small white star on the forehead for purebred registration. So my first question about this breed came up when the real stallion "Fire Magic", a "chestnut" Friesian horse showed up as the 2005 "Medieval Merriment" Breyerfest Celebration Model. (Weren't all Friesians supposed to be black???) I had to go out onto the online Breed registry sites to find the answer. "Though extremely rare, and not accepted for registration in most cases, Friesians are occasionally chestnut." Actually, this was not a huge surprise, since the two colors of black and chestnut are thought to be closely linked, genetically. (Check out the great website on Friesians at Wikipedia!)
In Fire Magic's case, he is a rare homozygous "Red" Friesian stallion, registered with the Friesian Horse Association of North America. If you own a "Fire Magic Model and wish to show him as a "registered Friesian", rest assured that this particular model is legitimate to show as such, under the FHANA. The real Fire Magic still stands at stud in California, as of 2010, at age 13. Which goes to show that there are always interesting exceptions to everything! Check out Fire Magic's website here.
But back to black horses. In Percheron horses, the "favored" colors are gray and black, with very minimal white markings permitted on the face and legs. The British Registry only permits grays and blacks into their studbooks. While the Percheron Horse Association of America registry now includes roans, bays, and chestnuts as well as grays and blacks, the most frequently seen colors are still grays and blacks, which are favored for conformity and tradition in draft horse cart and hitch classes.
The famed World Champion Disney World hitch which pulls their antique 1907 20-pipe steam calliope is composed of black Percherons. The original hitch consisted of 7 geldings, named (from leaders to wheelers) "Jim and Jack," "Lad and Mike," and "Dick and Nipper," with "Prince" filling in as needed. This team debuted in the January, 1980 Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA, and were sometimes referred to as "The Magnificent Seven".
Heinz Foods also at one time had an all-black Percheron hitch. The Heinz hitch was started in 1984, with an original Heinz hitch wagon which was a replica of an 1800's era horse drawn grocery cart. Heinz discontinued their traveling Hitch program in early 2006, and on August 16th, 2007 eight Heinz Percherons were donated to Arlington National Cemetery, for use as funeral horses for Army and Marine Corps military burials. The former Heinz Percherons are now members of the Caisson Platoon of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, (The Old Guard), and will be well looked after for the rest of their lives, while honoring our country's fallen soldiers and veterans.
The Arlington National Cemetery funeral caisson horses are also composed of primarily blacks and some greys, and are often Percherons. The blacks are used most often for most funerals; the greys are usually reserved for funerals for those of higher military rank and U. S. Presdidents. The caissons, built in 1918 to originally carry 75 MM cannons, equipped with ammunition chests, spare wheels, and cannon tools, today are used to carry the coffins. When appropriate, (such as in Presidential funerals) the black "Caparisoned Horse" is led behind the caisson, in full riding dress with boots placed backwards in the stirrups, as the famous "Riderless Horse". The Caparisoned Horse follows the casket of an Army or Marine Corps officer who was a colonel or above, or the casket of a U.S. President, by virtue of having been the nation's military commander in chief. Abraham Lincoln, who was assassinated in 1865, was the first U.S. president to be honored with a Caparisoned Horse at his funeral. The reversed boots denote that the honored deceased is a fallen warrior who will not ride again. View the grand article on the Arlington National Cemetery horses here.
My father rests at Arlington. Because he was a USAF "jet jockey", he did not have the horse-drawn caisson ceremony there at his funeral. However, it is fitting that he rests eternally underneath the air approach to Reagan National Airport, where his beloved jets roar continuously overhead. Due to an unfortunate spill from a horse onto a railroad track when he was a young man, horses ever after made Daddy nervous. He used to joke that when he was flying a plane there was only one person doing the thinking. He said that any time he got on a horse, there were two "individuals" doing the thinking, and he and the horse were never thinking the same thing at the same time!
Other pure breeds where certain breeders promote black coloring include Morgans, and Tennessee Walkers. Some of these breeders select exclusively for black coloring, altho there is no breed registry requirement for this. Thus black coloring is often common in these breeds among "fanciers of black horses".
There are also organizations which breed, and field large ceremonial teams of black horses, such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's Palace Life guards. The first officially recorded RCMP Musical Ride was performed in Regina, Canada in 1887. The RCMP has bred and raised its own horses since 1939, and all RCMP Musical Ride horses must be black, stand between 16 and 17 hands tall, weigh between 1002 and 1004 pounds, and be of good temperament. White markings on the face and legs are permitted. In 1969, the black RCMP Musical Ride horse named "Burmese" was presented to Queen Elizabeth II of England. Breyer did an SR German Export semi-gloss solid black model of Burmese on the "Secretariat" mold in 1990. See some photos of the RCMP horses here.
Queen Elizabeth's Life Guards also participate in many ceremonial parades on black horses. The "Trooping the Colours" ceremony is held each year on the Queen's Birthday, on June 14. Check out the gorgeous photos of the Queen's birthday celebration, and the Royal Mews, at:
A non-fading live black horse is rare. He is born black and remains jet black all of his life, with his coat color unaffected by sunlight or other fading influences. More common is the fading black horse, which often turns slightly brownish or "rusty" over the summer, when in "short coat" or when clipped. A clean black horse has a shiny coat; therefore a semi-gloss or glossy finish on a black model can be correct, if it isn't overdone. A dull coat on a real black horse is usually attributed to a lack of grooming, or to a horse which is enjoying less than good health.
Now here comes the new Breyer black porcelain "Esprit", for the World Equestrian Games! Boy is he DRAMATIC! But can you see eye and/or hoof detailing from the photo? The "fine print" next to him is too small to read online ..does he simply look like a "Silhouette"? Guess we'll all have to wait until we see him "in person", to decide! (I think he should be named "Silhouette", in any case !)
So. If our black model horses simply can't compete successfully without spots, stripes, dapples, shading, and other painted features, what's left? Well try "charisma". Let's assume that if he has seams that they are letter perfect, his finish is flawless, and that his conformation is appropriate for his breed or type. Further assume that just maybe he carries a realistic "hint" of something "interesting" in his coat other that plain, "flat black", such as "plum", blue, red, brown, faint silver dapples, or something else which is "color correct" for a real black horse. All else being equal, view your black horse model with an eye toward "drama". How about very expressive eyes? How about realistic hooves? Is he exciting? Does he possess "personality"? Is there a certain look in his eye, or a unique "presence" in his carriage? Does his black coat appear to have depth? Does he shine or glow? As with all, there is also always the `rarity" factor; however that SHOULD count for him ONLY in Collector's or Collectability classes, altho with rarity that is often not the case. We brave souls who bring out our good black model horses should think "charisma" in their case, and be able to enjoy showing them just like the rest of our models, even if not as often or as successfully.
If you have a black model which brings home a blue ribbon, I would love to hear about him/her! Please email me and tell me about him/her and include pix, of possible, and I will profile your winning black model(s) in a future "Breed Highlight" article! Let me know what it was about your black horse which knocked your judge off his/her feet!
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