Hobby horses, miniature models, each with is own story, grace Pittsfield woman's yard, home

Callie Smith stands by some of the spring hobby horses she’s collected over the years. Part of the hobby horse collection fills the front yard of her home in Pittsfield, and she decorates the horses for the holidays. (H-W Photos/Deborah Gertz Husar)
Posted: Feb. 18, 2013 3:59 pm Updated: Mar. 5, 2013 12:15 pm
Smith holds one of the thousands of model horses in her collection. The Pittsfield woman has collected horses, from the miniature models inside her home to the spring-suspended hobby horses outside, since she was 2 years old.

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- Cars slow down to a crawl outside Callie Smith's home.

Snail-pace speeds let the drivers take a closer look at her yard, decorated with nearly two dozen hobby horses.

"The ones in the yard I decorate for the holidays. I'll be decorating for Easter pretty soon, putting Easter ears on them, baskets with Easter eggs and grass," Smith said. "It just gives you something to do, something to look forward to."

The outdoor horses are just a small part of the Pittsfield woman's horse collection, which numbers in the thousands.

"I've got one made out of wood, marble, granite, one made out of a rock. I've got one made entirely out of rope and a real pretty hand-blown glass one," Smith said. "My aunt bought two for me that actually are made out of deer hide. They're really different, like a hard plastic body wrapped in deer hide, and deer hair for the mane and tail."

More traditional model horses in the collection are made from plastic or resin, in a variety of poses.

And Smith still has the horse that started it all, a Clydesdale she got when she was 2 years old.

Smith remembers waiting in the car the day she got it with a family friend she called Gramps while her aunt got her hair done in a small shopping mall.

"I was standing in the back seat, looking around, and I seen this horse. I started yelling ‘horsey, horsey,'" Smith said. "We walked over to the store. He made this poor young guy who worked in the store get on a ladder to get this horse off this glass shelving unit. It was the only one left, a Breyer Clydesdale mare. Gramps bought me that horse, and he wasn't even related to me. That's how I got started, and it just took off from there."

The Clydesdale from Breyer Animal Creations, considered the premier maker of model horses, soon had plenty of company.

"My aunt always went to garage sales and would bring them down by the paper-bagful," Smith said. "Some were Breyers. Some weren't. I didn't care, if it was a horse."

The horses range in size from dollhouse miniatures to the spring-suspended hobby horses like the one Smith had in her own childhood.

"I really had intended to keep it, but when I was at school one day, my dad got on one of his cleaning sprees and took it," Smith said.

She's more than made up for that loss with hobby horses stretching from inside her home out to her front yard.

A palomino hobby horse with a gold bridle came from an auction.

"An old lady told me he was supposed to be Trigger, Roy Roger's horse," Smith said, adding that it was "a little carousel pony I bought at a secondhand store."

When she sees a hobby horse outside a house, Smith will often stop and talk to the owners. If they don't want it, Smith is happy to take it off their hands.

Auctions, secondhand stores, garage sales, trades with other collectors and even citywide cleanup days all can yield new pieces for the collection. Others are gifts from family or friends.

"They each have a story. Either I found them somewhere along the line, or the person who gave them to me had a story to tell about them," Smith said. "It's really interesting when you get into collecting something. You learn about people's lives."

Smith has enjoyed horses all her life.

"I've had real horses in the past," she said.

Smith has a fancy pony saddle displayed on a big wooden rocking horse, and a dressage saddle with World War I stirrups that she bought for $25.

"It was a pretty good investment," said Smith, who has been disabled since 2001.

"When I can get out, when I'm walking pretty good, I go to garage sales" in a quest for more horse collectibles, she said. "It makes me happy, and it's a way to decorate your home."

Doing research to discover the next big find only adds to the fun.

Smith owns a reference book tracing the history of Breyer horses from 1950 through the mid-1990s. She learned that a recent addition to her collection was made between 1988 and 1990 -- and was worth more than she paid.

"He didn't have his box," she said. "They're worth more money if you've got the box."