I still gaze admiringly at the Breyer horse displays in toy stores, but I haven't purchased a new horse for a while. Recently, a friend told me about the Breyer Stablemates "Mystery Foal Surprise" sets. It's hard to think of three words that would entice me more than mystery, foal and surprise. That's a triple threat. These little $10 toys each contain a mare and a stallion, and also a tiny foal that's concealed behind a closed door. I can't resist surprises, so I bought one of these sets on a whim the other day (some pictures are posted over on Facebook). This experience inspired me to put aside my Breyer rider prejudices and look more closely at the doll-related products that this company is offering right now.
Today I will look at one of the larger (Traditional size) horse and rider sets from the 2013 My Favorite Horse collection. I have to admit that after spending most of my life as a Breyer horse fan, I was really excited to finally get my first close look at one of the Breyer dolls. The set I bought is called, "Let's Go Riding Western," and I chose this particular toy because the rider looked unexpectedly pretty and realistic to me:
|"Let's Go Riding Western" set by Breyer, $39.99.|
Just so you know where I'm coming from with my pre-conceived ideas about the Breyer dolls, let me quickly show you a few of the other options that I've seen around town.
This doll, "Eva," who is scaled to fit the smaller Classic series of horses, is more what I picture when I think of Breyer riders:
|Eva looks mad.|
In fact, Eva doesn't just look mad, she looks like she wants to seriously mess me up:
|I DARE you to open this box...|
The other doll that was in stock in this scale doesn't look at all mad, which is good...
...except that she looks like she's about to burst into tears:
|Maybe she just met Eva.|
Here's the new Let's Go Riding English set as an example:
As a sidebar, this particular set is from the 2014 collection called "Let's Go Riding." It's pretty much the exact same idea as the 2013 My Favorite Horse set I bought, just a more recent version. These sets are listed on the Breyer site for $51.99 (yikes!).
If you peek really closely at the picture, below, you can see the newer version of the Western horse and rider set on the back of the box:
|The new doll has red hair! Want!|
Also, rather than wearing a traditional English riding habit, she's wearing chaps and a printed enormo-collared shirt. I mean, any kind of rider will wear chaps, so that's ok, but I'm not sure who on earth would wear that shirt...at least on this side of the millennium. I wish this rider came with a more formal jodhpur and black jacket outfit.
So with all of that in mind, here's the set I bought:
As you can see, this doll is posed more naturally with her horse. She has one hand on the reins, and one hand out to the side in a semi-expressive way. The rest of the presentation is very similar to the Let's Go Riding collection.
The back of this box has a few pictures and descriptions of the Western set, but unfortunately it doesn't show any of the other horse and rider pairs from 2013. It just shows an accessory set called "Trail Class."
The first section of text describes the model horse collecting hobby. It even mentions model horse shows, which I occasionally entered when I was a kid. The idea of a model horse show sounds a little strange, but I found it to be an engaging alternative to owning and showing a real horse (which was not an option for me).
The second section of text introduces the Breyer magazine, Just About Horses, which I used to love. It also mentions an educational poster that is included in the box. The poster has some nice photographs of the models and also instructions for how to make your own barrel racing accessories.
The doll and horse (both nameless) are attached to a diorama-style cardboard backdrop that pulls out of the main window box:
|Looks like maybe the Rocky Mountains in the background?|
Six wire ties are used to attach the doll and the horse to the backdrop. The doll is also connected by a plastic tie through her hat. The wire ties are easier to cut than to unwind.
Ok, so when I first opened this set, I thought the bridle was falling off. The browband looked like it had slipped off of the left ear:
However, I noticed that the official photographs of this set (and those of the newer Western set) all have the bridle in this position--looped over only one ear. I only now looked this up and discovered that some real Western bridles have a one-ear style (which looks really neat). So...for most of the pictures in this review, I have the bridle on wrong. Sorry about that.
I am going to name the horse Cimarron (after one of the New Mexico Rocky Mountain ranges...) and the girl will be Daria. Right out of the box, Daria's left hand is still tied to Cimarron's bridle:
After separating the two friends, I was anxious to get a closer look at Cimarron the horse:
He comes with a bridle, a saddle, and a saddle pad. There's a layer of clear plastic around Cimarron's belly to protect him from the bright dye in the saddle pad:
After I "fixed" the browband of Cim's bridle, it looked fine from the right side:
But from the left, it either covered Cim's eye, or looked loose and droopy:
At the end of the review, I took these three pictures of how the bridle is supposed to look--again, my bad.
The top of the bridle is made out of very thin, papery, imitation leather that is glued together. The nosepiece is a light blue woven rope that attaches to reins made out of twisted white rope:
The reins are looped and glued at the ends, and each is decorated with a small tab of imitation leather:
There's a circle of brown thread under the noseband that is very thin and small and hard to get in place. I suppose it's there to help keep the noseband tight?
The saddle is made out of the same thin, fuzzy imitation leather as the top part of the bridle. It sits on top of a hot pink saddle blanket:
The saddle has a single girth with a fairly long strip of velcro that allows for some size adjustment. Western saddles often have two girths, though, and that style would have helped keep this saddle more securely in place.
The saddle's layered design looks a little funny to me. The front part of the saddle (the pommel) is made out of a separate band of fabric that's folded over and raised above the main body of the saddle. It's normal for there to be a gap in this area, but the construction here is too flimsy to mimic that effect. I also think the tiny metal saddle horn looks out-of-place...and slightly reptilian:
|It's like a little lizard's head peeking up at me.|
The saddle blanket is separate from the saddle, and is made out of thin (wrinkled) felt.
The saddle is lined with white fleece:
Some of the pieces in this saddle are connected with metal rivets, but other pieces are glued.
There's glue reside here and there, and some of the glued areas are coming undone--like the bottom of this stirrup:
The saddle has a funny shape and is very lightweight. Maybe I am outside the norm on this, but one of the things I love about real saddles is their weight (and smell). The feel of lifting a creaking leather saddle onto a horse's back is very satisfying, and this little saddle does nothing to recreate that sensation. However, the saddle has enough realism that it would be pretty fun for play--as long as it doesn't fall apart. I'd recommend grabbing a bottle of Fabri-Tac to go along with this set.
I have always felt that Breyer horses look best without tack, anyway:
Cimarron's head is tilted to his left, which makes this side slightly more photogenic. His coloring could be described as palomino pinto, tobiano or skewbald and his realistic markings are different on either side:
The box describes Cimarron as a "Paint" horse, which is a breed that is known for having this type of coloring.
He has a beautifully-painted head with dark eyes, a white stripe and even a little spot of pink on his nose:
|Tiny little paint defect there at the tip of his nose.|
I chose this Western set because I thought the doll was pretty, but I had another more sentimental reason for liking this particular horse and rider pair. As it turns out, one of my favorite horses when I was younger (and one of only a handful that I still own) shares a mold and a color pattern with Cimarron.
Here's my old horse, who was made from 1978 to 1987 and is called "San Domingo:"
|In my games, this stallion was a mare. I call her "Sandy."|
|Sandy has gotten quite yellow over the years! |
I don't think she wants to be displayed next to Cim...
Ok, now let's look at the doll, Daria. She comes wearing a powder blue cowgirl outfit complete with hat:
|Not the most attractive outfit.|
This doll stands very well on her own, helped a little by her plastic boots and stiff pants.
These boots are made for standin'
Not only was the hat plastic-tied to the box, but it was plastic-tied to the doll's head, too.
The ties left a pretty big hole in this flocked, plastic hat:
Under the hat, Daria's blonde hair is pulled back into a low ponytail that shows off her facial features:
She has a unique face that I find rather pleasant. Her orange-red eyebrows have an angular bend that isn't very natural (I am tempted to re-paint those...) but I like her eyes and mouth:
Her eyes are large, but not as exaggerated as most play dolls these days. They are bright royal blue with simple black pupils and small reflective dots.
Daria's eyes are framed with thick black lashes and light pink eyeshadow:
Her mouth is painted a dusky rose color and her smile is showing a line of teeth:
Daria's long ponytail is tied in two places to keep it under control in the box.
The hair looks nice down, but it does have a few kinks from the rubber bands. The hair fiber feels good and has a pretty shine. It's silky-smooth at the top, but has coarse ends. There's also a bit of stiff body to this hair, so that it can be fanned out to one side and it will hold its shape to some degree (nowhere near as bad as the Collector's Lane mini dolls, though...).
The hair feels plenty thick, but the rooting is sparse (non-existent, really...) at the back of the head:
The hair is rooted all of the way around the head and along the part on top, but there are only two rows of rooted hair at the back of the head along the bottom. The rest is bald:
Daria is wearing a high-collared vest over a matching long-sleeved shirt. The vest opens in front with velcro:
The vest is made out of a printed fabric on top, and then the bottom is stiff blue polyester (?) with a fuzzy suede-like feel. It's a lot like the material that the saddle is made out of. This blue material doesn't seem to need any finishing around the edges:
Under the vest, Daria has a long-sleeved collared shirt with a print that exactly matches the top of the vest:
The shirt closes with two plastic snaps.
|Snaps that don't always stay closed....|
|Whoa, there, cowgirl.|
Daria's bottoms are made to look like chaps over baby blue pants, but it's actually all one piece:
The chaps portion of the pants are made out of the same sueded material as the vest.
The pants close in back with a single plastic snap:
Daria's boots are made out of very thin hard plastic.
The outfit looks outdated to me (I think I had something similar in my youth...) but the construction is decent. I would like to find a different outfit for this doll some day. Incidentally, the newer Western doll (with red hair) has more modern-looking jeans and a lacy white blouse, which promises to be an improvement.
I was very pleasantly surprised by Daria's articulation. For some reason, I assumed that the Breyer riders had soft vinyl limbs with internal wire armature (maybe they used to?). This doll is made out of hard plastic and has an impressive fourteen points of articulation:
|You go, girl!|
Her head can spin around, but she cannot look up or down (other than a slight wobble in her neck joint). For a riding doll, the inability to look down is especially inconvenient to me. I would have loved to pose Daria looking down at her horse as she rides. In fact, the angle of her head has her looking slightly upwards all of the time.
Her shoulders have rotating hinge joints, so they can spin around and lift up and away from her body:
Daria's elbow and wrists are also rotating hinges, so she has great range of motion in her arms.
Her shoulder and elbow joints are plastic, but her wrist joint has a metal pin:
|This joint seems very fragile.|
Daria has a waist joint that allows her to move her torso from side to side (and a little bit forwards and backwards, too):
I pulled the two sides of the waist joint apart to get a peek inside. There's a clear vinyl band that loops around plastic pegs to hold the two sides of the doll's torso together. You can just barely see it here:
Daria's hips are held onto her body with similar vinyl bands. This gives her very good side-to-side leg movement:
But she has a tough time doing front-to-back splits. Her legs can be stretched into a full front-to-back split position, but they won't stay that way on their own--they snap back into this kind of pose:
When Daria sits on the ground, her hip articulation also prevents her from keeping her knees any closer together than this:
Daria is just able to hold a kneeling pose--if she uses the rest of her body to help with balance:
The knee joints are simple chunky hinges, and my doll's knees show some signs of stress along the seams just above the joint:
She is able to sit in a chair well enough that I feel optimistic about her ability to ride a horse.
Daria's ankles are also articulated with rotating hinges that really help her balance on her own. These joints seem very fragile, though. They wobble around a lot, and the piece of plastic that connects the ankle to the foot is very thin. Also, these feet are quite a bit more orange than the rest of the body:
Overall, Daria moves very well--certainly much, much better than I expected. Her joints all have a fragile feel to them, though. I find myself moving her arms and ankles with a great deal of care. I don't think she would be an ideal toy choice for a younger child. The box's "6 and up" age recommendation is a good one, and I might even push that to 7 or 8, depending on the child.
Daria is a unique size--at least among the dolls I own. She is smaller than both a standard 12" Barbie and Barbie Stacie:
|Fashionista Barbie, Breyer rider, Barbie Stacie.|
The dolls that came to mind when I first looked at Daria where the Only Hearts Club girls and my Juku Couture doll, Hayley:
|Only Hearts Club "Olivia," Breyer rider, Juku Couture "Hayley."|
Hayley is similar to Daria both in size and also in her style of articulation. Daria has a more mature body shape than Hayley, though. These two dolls can share some clothes: Daria's clothes fit Hayley, but Hayley's shirt is too tight on Daria and won't close in back. Daria's boots fit Hayley, but Hayley's shoes are enormous on Daria:
I was really hoping that my Juku Couture wardrobe could offer Daria some nice casual clothing options, but no such luck.
The Only Hearts clothing is too big for Daria, and even with her cloth body, Only Hearts Olivia can't squeeze into Daria's outfit.
|Only Hearts Club "Olivia," Daria.|
What's amusing to me is how similar Daria is to the old Mego Corp dolls--like the ones who used to ride my model horses when I was a kid:
|Mego "Dorothy," Breyer rider, Juku Couture "Hayley."|
This vintage Mego Dorothy has almost exactly the same style of body as Daria. Her torso and hip joints are held together with rubber bands (that are deteriorating) but the number and style of joints is very similar. One small difference is that Dorothy's neck has an extra joint, so she can look up and down. She also has a head that's much smaller than I remember!
Now, let's see how well Daria can ride her beautiful horse, Cimarron:
She can stand at his left side, holding the horn of the saddle and gripping the reins. Her other hand grips the back of the saddle nicely, too:
She has a little trouble putting her left foot in the stirrup while balancing the other foot on the ground. Her limited back-to-front hip joint movement is the problem here. She can get this far (not very elegantly...):
|I can do it! I can do it!|
Once she gets her right leg off the ground, though...
She's home free:
And has quite a nice riding posture:
She can hold the reins and the
lizard head saddle horn, and her feet can both fit in the stirrups at the same time:
Her heel should be able to sink lower than the bottom of the stirrup, though.
Here's the view from the front:
You can see that her feet don't look perfect (and the stirrups fall off pretty easily) but at least she can strike this pose and hold it for a while.
Juku Couture Hayley can also ride Cimarron, although her head is very large in comparison to Cim's features:
Only Hearts Club Olivia can bend her limbs well enough to ride, too, but Cimarron is really small for her:
For fun, I also tried Licca-chan on this horse (she's much too big!)
And Lottie (who fits better than Licca, but her head is big and her legs are short):
And here's BeForever Mini Kit, just so you can see how this scale of mini doll would look on a Traditional Breyer horse:
For other size references, here's Cimarron next to my Liv horse, Nutmeg, and the Monster High centaur, Avea Trotter:
And here's how Cim compares to the My Life As foal:
Here are a few more pictures of Daria and Cimarron:
I like Cim without his tack and I prefer Daria without her vest:
They can still have some fun bareback adventures like this!
Here's a solo portrait of Daria, who is a nicer doll in her own right than I ever expected:
And a portrait of Cimarron in his casual, natural pose:
These two make a nice pair:
Bottom line? First of all, this set cost me $40 at Toys R Us, which is a lot. However, a regular Traditional size Breyer horse costs about $30 these days ($6 when I was a kid, but never mind). It's hard for me to evaluate the $30 price of the horses since I have been out of the game for a while and there aren't really any comparable products on the market (except maybe the smaller Paradise horses, which I'll look at next). In any case, if you're already prepared to spend $30 on a Breyer horse, adding in the doll and tack for $10 is a good deal. Faced with the list price of $52, I would have been more hesitant to make this purchase.
The quality of the horse in this set is outstanding. He has the graceful realism that Breyer horses are known for, and is painted beautifully. I was very impressed by how the painting style has improved since I was a child. Breyer horses are not articulated, and this is usually a flaw in my eyes. However, adding articulation to these animals would come at the expense of their unrivaled realism. I had a few articulated horses when I was a kid, and while I loved posing them, they didn't spark my imagination anywhere near as much as the Breyer models did. I find the range of sculpted poses among these plastic horses to be magnificent. Sometimes when I look at them, I feel like I can almost see them breathe.
The quality of the doll and the tack do not measure up to that of the horse--which is reflected in the price of their inclusion. The tack is the most glaring misfit in this group. Even with the bridle positioned the correct way, it looks flimsy and cheap. The imitation leather is papery-thin, glued-together and cut too wide for the horse's face. The saddle is more attractive than the bridle, but it feels light and looks a little strange--especially at the front with the flimsy pommel and small metal horn. I am a horse tack snob, though, and imagine that for many kids, this saddle would be accurate enough to enhance their games. Even in this case, though, the construction of the tack is not durable. Fresh out of the box, some of the glued areas on my horse's saddle were already coming undone. I'd rather spend an extra $20 to get one of the more realistic, detailed tack sets that Breyer offers...or even make a saddle of my own.
The doll cannot even remotely match the realism of the horse, but she is way better than I expected her to be--and easily worth $10. Daria has a pretty face with a pleasant expression, although the style of her face paint is cartoonish when compared to Cimarron. Her hair is long and soft and looks nice, but it has coarse ends and is not rooted at the back of the head. Daria's articulation is great. She is has fourteen points of movement and can stand on her own and ride her horse very well. Her hands grip the reins and saddle horn, although they can look a little funny when they're not holding the tack. The two biggest flaws I see with the articulation are that Daria's head can't look down, and many of her joints seem very fragile. She would not be a good toy choice for a younger child. I find Daria's cowgirl outfit unattractive and outdated, but the construction is solid and there are many easy-to-use pieces. It's certainly better than the Wizard of Oz costumes that my old riders used to wear.
I would have absolutely adored Daria and Cimarron when I was a child. Daria would have been a welcome addition to my small group of articulated riders (certainly the prettiest in the bunch...), and Cimarron's gorgeous painted face and easy-going pose would have made him a star among my vast collection of horses. I could take or leave the tack, but for the price I paid, it's enough to get this appealing doll and her amazing horse.