Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Remembering the 1979 Model Horse Congress

Summer has always been a good time for a model horse event.  As collectors look forward to live shows and BreyerFest, I thought it might be fun to look back at an early large model horse show, the eighth annual Model Horse Congress in 1979.  It was organized by the young woman who came to be acknowledged as the godmother of the model horse hobby, Marney J. Walerius. 

Fortunately for us, the August 5, 1979 edition of the Chicago Tribune published a long article on the Congress, mostly an interview with Marney.  The reporter, Mary Daniels, did a decent job (for a non-collector) of explaining what was going on. (You'll see an interesting misspelling of "Walerius" in one of the captions.)

I'll show you the whole article first; then you can scroll down to read it in smaller sections and see the photos of Marney's model horses.  They show a draft horse by Francis Eustis, a Beswick Quarter Horse, an original finish Hagen-Renaker "Maverick" Quarter Horse," and a test run dapple gray Breyer Family Arabian Stallion.  

The article mentions Peter Stone, when he worked for Breyer, and other hobby resources of the time, including the Model Horse Showers' Journal published by Linda Walter and Breyer's Just About Horses.

Here's the full article.  Scroll down to read it in sections!

Here's a photo of Marney with her niece, Susan Randall,
admiring a Francis W. Eustis Percheron.


Did you ever attend a Model Horse Congress?  If so I'd love to hear your memories!  


Author Nancy Kelly has a great blog post on Marney Walerius, Ellen Hitchins, Simone Smiljanic, and the Model Horse Congress:

Nancy has written several books relating to the model horse hobby. Her latest is here:

Marney passed away in 1992, at age 43. Here's a tribute to her, from another model horse history blog:

The Breyer History Diva's blog looks back at the Breyer test run dapple grays, including Marney's In-A-Tiff:


  1. This was my first congress at 10 yrs old! My parents took me. It was AWESOME. And Marney was always so nice to kids.

    1. I think that photo of Marney with her younger cousin illustrates the importance of older collectors mentoring younger ones. That way the model horse hobby doesn't lose its love of the figurines, in the face of such a competitive and sometimes expensive collecting environment.

  2. MHC was my first live show. It was the mid-1970s, and I didn't drive yet. I convinced my parents that a Chicago vacation was a great idea. They could go sight seeing, and I could be at the show.

    The day we arrived, I discovered the person in the adjoining room was also a shower, and we ended up talking in her room until 3am whilst I made a huntseat set out of an old vinyl sandal I had because I wanted to show performance, and I didn't have any tack at that point.

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  4. I think I am the Canadian named in the article. I don't recall meeting any others in the 70s at Congress.

    I went to Congress in 1977 and 1979, The first time I was billeted with Laura Rock (Rockmaker) Smith, and the second time with my mom. Mom wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

    It was a long time ago. I am almost 60 and my first visit was at the age of 18. Old photos jog my memory.

    On my first visit I was picked up by Marney Walerius and Kathy Wells who was staying with Marney. They got me at the airport. I don't know how I did that - flying with a show string of about 9 horses. I could not do it today. I remember the drive to Marney's house - how pretty the landscape was. And her house in the trees.
    I also recall hanging out in the hotel pool with Laura who was teasing me mercilessly about the 'boys' at the pool. "Look, Beth, BOYS..."

    I met Peter Stone, who pumped me for intel on the rider dolls I used. In retrospect he reminded me of Peter Coyote's character in E.T. - all avuncular interest, but with an agenda. (A short time later "Brenda Breyer" was introduced., and she was suspiciously like the hunt seat rider he was questioning me about.)

    I also met Chris Hess, Breyer's sculptor. I believe he had the prototype of his Secretariat model, that met with mixed reviews. He didn't look well and I heard he died not long after.

    On that second visit, what I recall best was the food. I remember specifically what I ate - or at least he worst and best of what we ate. My mom and I ordered the *worst* pizza ever made - cardboard with ketchup on top. Also had a great meal in the hotel restaurant (crab-stuffed sole) so mixed culinary memories. Crazy.

    I also remember a severe storm that blackened the sky and spawned tornado warnings. We stood looking out the doors of the hall as the day turned to night and lightning rained down.

    I don't recall exactly how I did, other than I did well, on both visits. Then, they used real satin flat ribbons and rosettes for championships and I came home with both. Sadly, I left the hobby in the late 80s and threw out a lot of my show swag a couple decades later, , telling myself it was unimportant - something I deeply regret, especially now that I have returned.

    I also did well through sales. I made enough to pay for my trip and have a bit left over to show for it, too.

    On those trips I met showers who remain active today. It was exciting to come back and find people I knew all those years ago.

    Marney had a vision - that the model horse hobby would become a global phenomenon. In the 70s and 80s I knew a handful of hobbyists outside of North America, particularly in England. Now, hobbyists are to be found globally and there are many gifted artists in Europe, particularly in Germany and Russia. I mentioned to a young Russian lady that the transaction we were doing would have been unthinkable when I entered model horse showing and I was thrilled that we could do it now.

    Marney would be pleased. She was a visionary.