Monday, September 29, 2014

A 1:9 Scale Horse and Rider by Paradise Kids

Writing a review of the Breyer Let's Go Riding Western set last week inspired me to get some of my Paradise toys out of storage for their long-delayed review.  I have reviewed a few of the Paradise horses before, but only the larger animals designed for 18" play dolls.  I was so pleased to see the level of articulation on the Breyer doll, I wanted to find out how the Paradise riders compare.  Also, as a long-time fan of Breyer model horses, I was curious about the equivalently-sized 1:9 scale articulated Paradise horses.

This scale of Paradise toys has a few size options.  There are 9.5 inch horses (measured from hooves to ear tips) and also 8.5 inch ponies.  The riders also come in a few sizes.  In the Barn Buddies collection, there are 7.5 inch "adult" dolls to fit the horses, and 6 inch child dolls for the ponies.  The newer Cowgirl Cool collection of riders contains 10 inch dolls that I suspect are made to fit a different group of Paradise horses--the 10 inch fuzzy-skinned ones that look like miniature My Life As horses.  Today I will review a 9.5 inch (non-fuzzy) horse and one of the larger Barn Buddies dolls.

This review will serve as a companion to the Breyer post, and my hope is that it will provide a resource to help horse lovers figure out which company's 1:9 scale horse and rider toys are best for them.

Paradise Barn Buddies "Eva," and horse "Merlin."
I also want to briefly mention yet another scale of Paradise horse toys: 6 inch horse and rider sets called Poz-ABLES. These sets have smooth-skinned ponies and little riders that look like miniature Barn Buddies.  I'd guess these are about 1:12 scale.  They're adorable.

The Breyer set that I reviewed cost $40 and included a horse, tack, and a rider.  I could not find an equivalent all-inclusive set among the Paradise toys, so I had to piece together my own group of roughly similar items.  Here is what I have:

1. Barn Buddies "Eva" (left)
2. English Hunt Seat Riding set (center)
3. Black horse "Merlin" (right)
1. Barn Buddies "Eva:"  The Paradise rider dolls all retail for around $20, but I found this particular character on sale for $7.50.  In fact, since the retail focus seems to have shifted to the Cowgirl Cool dolls, the older Barn Buddies can usually be found for between $5 and $13.

2. English Hunt Seat Riding set: this set has a listed retail price of $39.99, but it's marked as "temporarily unavailable" on the Paradise Kids site right now and getting hard to find.  I paid $19.99 for my set about a year ago.  This set happens to be on clearance at Chick's Saddlery for $4.99 right now.  

3. The black Paradise horse: this horse is called "Merlin" (great name!) and currently retails for $49.99 (Toys R Us) but can easily be found for less (he's $29 at Amazon).

The full price for these three items is about $110 (way, way more than the Breyer set), but I paid $56, which is closer to the Breyer price.  Still, after some investigating, I don't think it's fair to compare the quality of the Breyer and Paradise tack sets I own.  The Paradise tack is probably more equivalent to the saddle and bridle sets that Breyer sells separately.  I do think it's fair to compare the horses and riders, though.  Despite their high M.S.R.P., these Paradise toys are quite easy to find for very reasonable prices.  There are bundles on eBay where you can get a horse, two ponies, and several riders for under $40.

First, let me show you the Paradise horse, Merlin:

I was excited to see the flexibility of these horses featured on the front of the box.  The box states that they are "fully posable," though, which is an ambitious claim:

Does that mean that every single joint is posable?  Unlikely.
The box also advertises an online horse club that's free to join:

I was happy to see that the horse comes with a halter and a carrot--the carrot suggesting that the horse has a mouth that can be opened (like some of the earlier 18" Paradise horses):

The back of the box is bright red and has a paragraph about the Paradise philosophy.  This text is the same on all of the boxes and the words are slightly easier to read on the doll's box, so I'll show you a larger picture when I review the doll.

The back of the box also has a picture showing all of the other available horses:

I love the flea-bitten grey, but he's hard to find.
Unlike Breyer models, these horses all come in the same generic standing pose.  The only difference from horse to horse is in their coloring.  That's fine--as long as the joints allow them to come alive a bit more.

Merlin is displayed against a scenic cardboard backdrop that slides out of the main box.  He's actually held in place with a molded plastic shell, though.  There are no ties, wires or rubber bands holding this horse down.  I simply had to bend the plastic a little and out he popped:

Super-easy de-boxing.
The accessories were slightly harder to get out because of some tape and a plastic tie, but basically this toy is a breeze to de-box.

Merlin came with a sheet of plastic taped around his neck to keep his mane under control.  This was also easy to remove.  

One thing that's hard to appreciate about these horses from looking at photographs is how heavy they are.  They are made out of solid rubber (or maybe it's vinyl) with an underlying bendable armature.  They weigh significantly more than the hollow plastic Breyer models.

Paradise Horse Merlin

I had quite a few Breyer horse legs break on me when I was a kid.  This was not a huge deal (nothing a little super glue couldn't fix...) but the solid-feeling construction of these Paradise horses could be great for younger kids or kids with an energetic style of play.  

Right away, this horse's face doesn't give me anywhere near the same kind of emotional reaction as the Breyer horse faces, though.  Merlin has a small, narrow head with a weak jaw and high-set, blank-looking eyes:

That is an unusual horse face.

His only marking is a perfectly symmetrical white star on his forehead:

Paradise Horse Merlin

To be fair, Merlin is probably the least expressive horse in the Paradise lineup because of his dark color.  There's no distinction between his eye color and his coat color, and he can't have any darker shaded areas.  This might explain why he is the easiest horse to find on sale.  

I am tempted to add a little white to the very edges of his eyes, just to see if that would make them less vacant....

Merlin has a long black rooted mane that can be brushed, and a very long, blunt-cut forelock:

Paradise Horse Merlin

As I played with Merlin, I had quite a bit of difficulty keeping his forelock under control.  The hair wants to stick out straight, and this can look pretty funny.  It takes a lot of slicking down to get this patch of hair to behave.

He also has a brushable tail:

On the side opposite Merlin's long mane, it is easier to see the contours of his body.  He is very nicely muscled, especially in the neck.  To me, Merlin's body is more realistic than his head.  His neck and withers look really good--especially with the light catching them and making Merlin look like his coat has been brushed to a glossy shine:

Paradise Horse Merlin

Merlin's legs also have a good level of realism, with all of the correct bone, muscle and tendon contours:  

However, his hooves are not as well done.  That far hoof, in particular, looks blunted and shapeless:

Merlin's front legs each have two points of articulation.  He doesn't bend at the elbows at all.  The nice thing about the joints that he does have--at the wrists ("knees") and fetlocks--is that they can only bend in the anatomically correct direction.  However, they don't bend very much in this direction.

When I bend Merlin's knee joints, the underlying armature seems to stress the rubber "skin."

In the picture below, you can see two details--one is the "chestnut" callus on the inside of Merlin's left leg, the other is the pointy knee armature threatening to poke a hole in the skin:

When I bent Merlin's right leg for the first time, I noticed a small hole in the joint:

I was surprised to see how thin the black covering is--at least in this area.  Now I am even more worried about the pointy knee joints and the skin's durability. 

There's another imperfection on this horse right out of the box: a small scuff on the right side of his belly:

The black color appears to be skin deep.
Here's the range of motion in the hind limbs.  Only the hocks and fetlocks are jointed:

The bent hind limbs look ok, I just wish the hooves had more natural-looking positions.

The bottoms of all four hooves are decorated with silvery grey horseshoes.  The right front leg also has the Paradise Horse logo in orange:

I was really hoping that Merlin's articulation would allow him to bend his legs more than this:

Nowhere near "fully posable."
Furthermore, with both a front leg and a back leg bent like this, Merlin looses a lot of his stability.

I still had some hope for the articulation at this point, though, because the neck is also advertised as being flexible, and I love being able to move a model horse's head.  Unfortunately, the range of motion is not very good here, either.  The neck can only bend a tiny bit to either side:

In fact, it's hard to tell if this horse has his neck bent or not sometimes.  The head doesn't lift up or down at all, which was another disappointment.

I had to use some photo-editing magic to get Merlin to finally strike an interesting pose.  Even here, I really wish those front legs could bend more (and the rip in his knee is quite visible, too):

Paradise Horse

Maybe the neatest form of movement that Merlin has to offer is his opening mouth:

Not only does this mean that he can munch on a carrot...

...but the open mouth also adds a lot of personality to his otherwise plain features:

He looks like he's smiling.
In addition to the carrot, above, Merlin came with a small plastic comb and a red halter with a lead rope:

The halter is very realistic and works exactly the same way that a real halter would...except for the fact that it opens in the back with velcro (the metal buckle is just for decoration).  This style of construction makes it very easy to get the halter on and off--there's no fumbling around with tiny straps and buckles.

The lead rope is made out of twisted cotton twine and comes wrapped the way a real lead rope would be stored:

Great detail.
Tack like this isn't supposed to be tight, but Merlin's halter seems excessively loose:

Paradise Horse

I do love the construction on this piece, though, and all of the tiny metal details.  I especially like the clip that fastens the lead rope to the bottom of the halter:

That's another very realistic detail.
Ok, now let's look at the tack set I have for this horse.  

As far as I can tell, Paradise only offers two tack sets (Western and English) and both sets appear to be scarce right now--perhaps discontinued.  The horse models come in two sizes, though (horse and pony) and so I was curious about which size of horse this tack was designed to fit.

The English Hunt Seat Riding Set.
On the side of the box, it says, "for use with all your Paradise Horses."  So, does that mean that it fits the ponies, too?  I think it must, because the pinto in the picture, below, is one of the ponies.  

The back of the box looks very similar to the back of Merlin's box, except that all of the different tack options are displayed at the bottom:

Mostly blankets and one saddle/bridle set.
The tack is elaborately arranged on a cardboard horse.  The realism of this display has caused confusion about what exactly is included in this set.  From a distance, and shopping online, it almost looks like there's an actual model horse in the box:

Except for the fact that this horse is missing half of his legs.
After carefully detaching the tack from the cardboard horse and the surrounding plastic shell, I was left with this jumble of confusing straps and leather:

The fancy packaging makes more sense when I see the tack like this.
The set includes a quilted saddle pad:

The pad is nicely sewn and has a dark crimson border.  The underside of the pad has a fuzzy texture--like very fine fleece.

The saddle is made out of realistic-looking imitation leather.  This material has some stretch to it, which makes manipulation a little easier.  I have been cautious about over-stretching the girth, though, since I am not sure how tough this stuff is.

The saddle has metal stirrups and lots of detail--including two different shades of rich brown imitation leather.

You can even lift the saddle flap to reveal a row of leather strips made to mimic the adjustable girth straps on a real saddle:

I love this!

The pommel is secured with two metal rivets, and also has two small metal rings at the front (I am not sure what these are for--presumably for the attachment of more tack?):

The underside of the saddle is even padded--look at how gorgeously realistic this is!

The saddle is attached to Merlin by stringing the girth through a metal ring...

...and then folding the loose end over to where it attaches to the rest of the girth with a long strip of velcro: 

The stretchy strap makes the fit nice and tight.
The saddle looks amazing:

The stirrups on this saddle are even adjustable:

And the straps can be tucked into the stirrups (which is what I was taught to do when I was leading a horse around--to keep the heavy stirrups from banging against the horse):

The bridle came with a removable martingale harness.  Here's the bridle with the reins on the left and the martingale on the right:

The best thing about the bridle is that it has a snaffle bit--for Merlin's opening mouth!

It also has several metal buckle decorations--but as with the halter, the actual attachment points are all done with velcro.

I removed the martingale so that I didn't get confused by all of the straps.  Here's how the bridle looks on Merlin:

The reins on this piece are the perfect width, but I feel like the rest of the bridle is too chunky and wide for Merlin's narrow face.  He is overwhelmed by imitation leather straps:

Oh, dear.
The side of the bridle with the velcro attachments is especially bulky:

But look how cool the bit is:

It tends to gradually slip out of the mouth over time, but I find this idea really fun.

And it makes Merlin smile.
After getting used to the bridle, I was ready to attach the martingale.  It loops onto the bridle's cheek strap, and then encircles Merlin's neck, like this:

The end fits under the saddle girth...

...and then folds over and attaches to itself with velcro:

Here's Merlin all tacked up and ready to go:

Paradise horse and tack

I love the look of the dark leather against Merlin's pure black coat--with the clean white saddle pad as contrast:

He looks better with his tack than without it.
It's interesting how the tack (especially the saddle) dramatically enhances this horse's appeal--at least to me.

Ok, now let's get a look at the Paradise rider.  The older riding dolls are called "Barn Buddies." 

This particular doll is named "Eva..." someone else we know:

Don't you DARE use my name for her!!
Paradise Eva doesn't seem to be experiencing quite the same emotional turmoil as Breyer Eva, though.  This doll's expression is more pleasant--although it borders on haughty or bored:

Or maybe sleepy?
On the back of Eva's box is the same paragraph that's on all of the other Paradise boxes.  Here it is up close for you to read:

There's also a lineup of all of the available Barn Buddies--notice how the four on the right are shorter than the ones on the left:

I don't feel optimistic about the arm articulation when I look at this picture...
On the sides of Eva's box there's a picture of Eva riding a horse, and of her having her hair combed:

She doesn't look especially graceful on that horse...
or especially happy to have a huge comb stuck on her head.
She is advertised as having posable arms, legs, and head, though...which is good:

I hope "fully posable" means more here than it did with Merlin.
Here's Eva out of her box:

Paradise Barn Buddies "Eva"
Paradise Barn Buddies doll, "Eva."
She comes in a wonderful riding habit with a dark green jacket, white blouse, jodhpurs, boots, a black plastic riding helmet and a crop.

The crop is made out of plastic.  I don't think Eva will have any need for this with Merlin, though.

Eva has very blonde hair that is pulled back into a ponytail.  The thick hair on the top of her head gives her a mild case of helmet-hair and makes her head look bigger than it is:

Paradise Barn Buddies "Eva"

At least the ponytail makes it easy to see Eva's facial features.  She has grey heavy-lidded eyes, dark pink lips and ginger brown eyebrows (that don't match her hair color):

Paradise Barn Buddies "Eva"

Both the creases above her eyes and her eyelashes are painted with the same thin black lines.  She also has a dark ring around her grey irises...and the ring around her left eye is thicker.  This gives her a slightly wonky-eyed appearance.

Eva's face is fine, but I wish I had some repainting skills because I think she'd look fabulous with a makeover.

The Breyer doll's hair rooting was a bit of a disappointment, so I was anxious to see how Eva's hair measured up.  I also wanted to see if having her hair loose around her face would soften her expression.  

I'm not certain if this helps her expression, but one thing is for sure--Eva has a lot of hair:

The hair is quite long and has some curl at the ends.  The hair fiber is smooth and soft, and the texture is consistent from top to bottom--the ends don't feel scraggly or coarse.

Also, the rooting pattern is uniform over the entire back of the head with no obvious bald patches.  

This is nice hair--especially for such a small doll.   If anything, the hair is too thick.  It's hard to get it tucked nicely under the hat.  Also, I'm not crazy about the color (darker blonde might look more natural).  These are pretty small complaints, though, and overall I am happy with the hair.

I really like the style of Eva's formal riding habit.  Her hunter green jacket is a nice change from the more common black or red blazers.  The jacket closes in front with velcro, although this seam never seems to be completely closed:

The jacket is a little wrinkled (especially in back) but the construction is nice--with double seams down the back and everything:

The jacket has decorative gold buttons that are glued on:

The jacket has a bright yellow collar made out of a shiny synthetic fabric.  I don't like the choice of material here, since the collar doesn't lay flat or have crisp edges:

The jacket is not lined (that would be too bulky for such a small doll...) but it looks very well finished on the inside:

Under the jacket, Eva is wearing a high-collared white blouse that also opens in front with velcro:

On the bottom, she's wearing stretchy jodhpurs with imitation leather knee grips:

As an aside, the more clothes that came off this doll, the more excited I got about all of the revealed joints!  Jackpot!

Under the boots, the jodhpurs are full-length and taper at the ankles:

The boots are made out of hard plastic that is slightly more substantial than the Breyer rider's ultra-thin plastic boots.  

These boots are hard to get on.  The problem is that Eva's ankle joints get fully extended when her feet are being put into the boot, and then when her toes hit the bottom of the boot, the foot won't bend.  It's takes some careful maneuvering to get the ankle in at just the right angle.

This doll has even more joints than I hoped she would.  Under those jodhpurs, she has lower thigh joints and knee joints.  In fact (and I say this rarely) I can't think of any joints that I'd like to see that Eva doesn't have:

SIXTEEN points of articulation. 
As an aside, the newer Paradise Cowgirl Cool dolls appear to have bendy limbs with an internal wire armature--more like a Licca-chan doll.  If that's the case, I'm sure I would prefer the distinct joints of the older dolls.

Eva is 7.5 inches tall and is made out of hard plastic with a vinyl head, hands and feet.

Her head can look all around, and also up and down (hurrah!):

Her shoulder joints are rotating hinges, so they have a great range of motion:

Her elbows and wrists are also rotating hinges, and both joints can flex to 90 degrees.

Eva's right elbow didn't bend much at first.  I managed to finally muscle it into bending, and you can see on the tip of the elbow that she has some plastic residue that was probably jamming the movement.  This joint continues to get looser every time I move it, so this isn't a huge problem.

Eva has a rotating waist joint:

As you can see, the seam along the side of her body is quite noticeable:

Eva doesn't have much definition on either side of her chest, so even though her waist can rotate a full 360 degrees, it's hard to tell when she's facing straight backwards:

Eva's thighs have simple rotation, and her knees are hinged, so the combination behaves just like a rotating hinge knee joint:

Her knees can bend in the wrong direction, though, which can lead to some odd-looking poses:

But bent in the right direction, the knees look great:

Eva can do splits of any kind:

She can do lunges:

And kinda sit cross-legged:

She can kneel expertly:

And can strike this glamorous pose (that I don't think I've ever used on a doll before):

I mean, this doll can practically do anything...and the best part is, she balances on her own in all of these positions.  No camera trickery here.

When she sits in a chair, her knees are a little further apart than I would like, but I wonder if this is a side-effect of being a horse-riding doll...?

Here's Eva next to my Breyer riding doll, Daria:

Eva has a more child-like body than Daria, and she's about an inch shorter.  She also has much less of a red hue in her skin tone:

Paradise rider doll (left), Breyer rider doll (right).
Daria feels very lightweight next to Eva, and many of her joints are loose in comparison.  For example, it's much harder to get Daria to stand upright because her ankle joints flop around and don't have a lot of stability.

These dolls have very differently-shaped bodies, but they seem to have the exact same hands and feet:

Eva has more molded detail in her fingernails, though:

The feet look identical to me:

You can see how loose Daria's ankle joint (right) is in this picture.
Daria can wear Eva's full outfit, although the blouse and jacket are a bit loose.  Eva's riding helmet fits her especially well:

Breyer rider wearing Paradise doll clothing.
Eva can wear Daria's pants (they're tight...) and boots, but she can't fit into Daria's blouse.  

Here's Eva next to my Juku Couture doll, Hayley--who has similar articulation:

Paradise "Eva" and Juku Couture "Hayley."
These two dolls both have more childlike bodies, and so despite the difference in height, Eva can actually wear some of Hayley's funky clothes:

She's wearing Barbie Stacie's shoes.
Of the dolls I own, Eva is probably the most similar in size to Lottie:

Lottie (left), Eva (right).
These two can share some clothes (not shoes, though).  Eva's outfit is loose on Lottie and Lottie's clothes are tight on Eva--especially the tops.

For another size reference, Eva's stands in between Barbie Chelsea and Barbie Stacie--a bit closer in height to Stacie, though:

Barbie Chelsea, Paradise Eva, Barbie Stacie.
The dolls I think of most when I play with Eva, though, are the Liv dolls:

Despite dramatically different proportions and body styles, these two dolls both pose better than most.

Paradise "Eva" (left) and Liv "Hayden" (right).
I had to do a quick pose-off between the two:

What's amazing to me is that they're both balancing alone in all of these pictures.  I kept expecting one or the other of them to fail, but they were unstoppable....

Hayden's waist joint looks pretty strange in this pose....
After trying every pose I could think of, I noticed that while both dolls could strike all of the poses, Eva has better balance than Liv.  I could quickly get Eva into a strange pose in a way that was stable, while Liv often took some balancing finesse to get settled.

To see how Eva interacts with her horse, Merlin, I changed her back into a more casual version of her riding habit, with just the jodhpurs, blouse and hat:

Paradise Barn Buddies "Eva"

I love that Eva can look up at Merlin--I just wish that he could look back down at her:

Paradise horse and rider

Here's Eva, at Merlin's left, getting ready to mount:

Even though Eva has champion leg articulation, this horse is simply too tall for her to mount unassisted.  Give that girl a leg up!

Or...get her a mounting block:

With that little boost, mounting is a piece of cake:

Paradise horse and rider

Eva's riding style is wonderful.  She sits exactly the way I want her to sit, and the adjustable stirrups can be moved to fine-tune the perfect fit:

A little crooked, but that's my mistake.
Eva rides so nicely, I wish that Merlin could be put through a few more paces.  He seems to be stuck at very, very slow walk:

Paradise horse and rider

Paradise horse and rider

After their ride, Eva slipped on Merlin's red halter and took him back to the barn for his dinner:

Paradise horse and rider

So, I think at this point it's no secret that I prefer the Paradise rider, Eva, to the Breyer rider Daria.  In fact, seeing Eva actually made me appreciate Daria less than I did initially.  Eva's face is more realistic, her hair is well-rooted, her outfit is tasteful and better-constructed, and her articulation is among the best I've seen.

Breyer rider (left) and Paradise Barn Buddies "Eva" (right).
With the horses, my feelings are the opposite.  I adore my Breyer horse Cimarron, but Merlin is nowhere near as detailed and realistic, and his articulation is not good enough to compensate for those shortcomings.  I do think Merlin would make a nice toy for younger children, though.

Breyer horse and Paradise horse
Breyer Traditional scale horse (left) and Paradise large horse (right).
The difference between the two horses is especially striking in the face:

Breyer horse and Paradise horse
No contest.
And in the hooves:

I might be a little hung-up on hooves, but I think Cimarron's hooves are graceful and perfectly realistic.  I can almost hear him walk when I look at these feet:

Breyer hooves.
I think more about shuffling slippers when I look at Merlin's feet.

Cimarron can wear Merlin's tack, and the saddle looks amazing on him, but the bridle looks just as chunky and oversized as it did on Merlin:

Breyer horse in Paradise tack.
Merlin can also wear Cim's tack:

Paradise horse in Breyer tack.
Eva can't reach the stirrups on the Breyer saddle, though:

Paradise horse and rider with Breyer tack.
The adjustable stirrups on the Paradise saddle easily accommodate Daria's longer legs:

Breyer horse and rider with Paradise tack.
Daria actually looks pretty good on Merlin.  He's taller than Cimarron, and so his size seems better suited to her.  Also, the level of realism between these two is more equivalent than it is between Daria and Cim.  Merlin doesn't make Daria look as much like a cartoon character:

Paradise horse with Breyer rider.
However, my favorite combination is Eva with Cimarron.  Eva is not as realistic as this horse, but she comes closer than Daria.  Plus, I think her subdued expression and formal outfit make her a better fit:

Breyer horse with Paradise rider.
The biggest problem with the combination, above, is that bulky bridle.  Ugh.  I prefer the look of the red halter and lead:

My favorite combination.
I managed to convince Eva to go back and ride Merlin again.  Even though he can't compete with the beauty of the Breyer models, he's still a good horse, and his black coloring acts as a backdrop to show off Eva and the nicer pieces of the Paradise tack: 

Paradise horse and rider

Paradise horse and rider

Paradise horse and rider

In this next picture, I love how Eva can gaze up at Merlin, lovingly offering the carrot.  It's in shots like this, though, that I am keenly aware of how Merlin is unable to relate to Eva in return.  It's a real missed opportunity in an otherwise promising line:

Paradise horse and rider

Still, once I give Merlin that carrot, his goofy smile wins me over every time:

Paradise horse "Merlin"

Paradise horse "Merlin" and rider "Eva"

Bottom line?  While the horse was the clear star of the show with the Breyer playset, the doll is the winner among this group of Paradise toys.  I still have a hard time believing that I paid only $7.50 for Eva.  It simply doesn't fit with other experiences I have had in the doll world.  

Let me start with Merlin, though.  For the most part, this horse has nice conformation, and a level of realism that matches the riding dolls quite well.  Merlin's neck, body and legs look very good.  His anatomical weaknesses are in his head and his hooves.  His head is small with some funny proportions, and his features lack detail and personality.  The exception to this is Merlin's opening mouth.  Not only can his mouth hold a snaffle bit, but when it's open, there's extra expression in the otherwise plain face.  The Paradise horse bodies have substantial weight.  This weight makes Merlin solid on his feet--but only when all four hooves are on the ground.  The hefty construction might also make Merlin a better choice for younger kids than the hollow plastic Breyer horses.  Merlin is articulated in nine places, but has a very small range of motion.  He cannot kick, jump, buck, rear, gallop...or even walk very fast.  Even though his neck is articulated and is capable of some minor side-to-side motion, he can't look up or down at all.  I do like that the joints are concealed beneath a rubbery skin-like covering, but wonder about the durability of this material, especially near the joints.  The construction of this horse's body--with its rubbery skin, generic shape, and hefty weight, seems designed to accommodate articulation, and yet the articulation is nowhere near good enough to justify that focus.  I find that Breyer horses have more implied movement in their static poses than this horse has in his actual joints.  Breyer horses are my unequivocal favorite of these two.

I have mixed feelings about the Paradise tack I bought for this review.  The halter and lead rope that came with Merlin are great.  The fit is loose, but the construction and realism are excellent.  In the English tack set that I purchased, the saddle is fabulous, but the bridle is a disappointment.  The bridle has some neat features--like the metal bit and the decorative buckles.  The reins also look perfect and fit into Eva's hands really well.  However, the straps around the face are way too thick and chunky to flatter the slender Paradise horse heads.  In contrast, the saddle looks elegant, is easy to use, and the little details are amazing.  I especially like how the metal stirrups are adjustable, how the saddle flap lifts up to reveal girth straps underneath, and how even the bottom of the saddle has stitched, three-dimensional detail.  

The doll, Eva, is a little treasure.  I wish I had discovered her sooner.  I don't know of any other sturdy, highly-articulated, fully-dressed dolls for under $10.  After looking at Eva, I want to go back and modify my evaluation of the Breyer doll, Daria.  Even though Daria has a lot of joints and rides nicely, she's not in Eva's class.  Eva's head mobility is great, all of her joints seem stable, and she can strike almost any pose I imagine--and stay balanced in even the most unusual positions.  Next to Eva, Daria seems lightweight, wobbly and fragile.  Eva's facial expression can come across as a little haughty (or sleepy) but she has more realism in her features than Daria.  She also has very nicely-rooted soft hair, although her bleach-blonde hair color is not my favorite.  Eva's riding outfit is attractively made out of authentic-looking fabrics.  I especially like the imitation leather knee grips on the jodhpurs and the flattering cut of the high-collared blouse.  This outfit makes Daria's fake suede clothes seem cheap.  It would be great if there were some everyday clothes available for the Paradise dolls.  Eva is easily the best riding doll I have ever bought, but more than that, she makes a wonderful, versatile, affordable doll all on her own.

Now that I've elaborated on the strengths and weaknesses of these horse and rider toys, I just want to say that I had a fabulous time playing with all of them.  For me, almost any horse-related toy can rekindle a few fond childhood memories.  However, horse toys that are made with accuracy and detail can actually have me crawling on the floor and playing like I was a kid again.  In this case, there might even have been some whinnying.  I think both Breyer and Paradise (each in different ways) have succeed in manufacturing horse toys that will stir children's imaginations in an original and enduring way.

Paradise horse "Merlin" and rider "Eva"


  1. YAY! I much prefer Eva, too. But the Breyer horses, with their loving expressions, win for me. Another great review, Emily. (Also - firstie!!!)

    1. Thank you Emma! We are in the same boat, then! Breyer horses and Paradise riders for the win! :D

  2. Wow, I wasn't expecting Eva to pose better than a Liv doll... How does she look on a Breyer horse?

    1. Hi Hunter--isn't she neat? There's a picture of her on my Breyer horse, Cimarron, towards the end. ;)

  3. Little Eva is such a diamond in the rough! Her face reminds me a little bit of an early 80s Barbie. Loved the review :)

    1. She does have a slightly vintage look to her face for some reason! Great point! Too bad she's not a better size to be a young sibling for some of the older Barbies. I think her features would be too mature for her height in that scale. Still, maybe with a re-paint...

  4. Ooh... The saddle and Eva are so lovely! I also love her name, it (and her face/hair) remind me of Eva Duarte-Peron, The star of the Musical Evita. Her poses are awesome! Thanks for the cool reviews!

    1. Thank you, Muzzy! Thinking about Eva Duarte-Peron makes me like Eva's hair color better! I also like her facial features better when I think of a more vintage style--like you and Farrah suggested. Isn't the posing amazing? I was so surprised and impressed. Who knew? I should have been shopping in the riding doll sections years ago. :)

  5. At last - a doll who's the right size for her horse! (And I love the slogan 'Encouraging Serious Horseplay'.) Brilliant review, Emily - thanks: now, where's the horse that fits a Makie? - Jocelyn

    1. Yes, indeed! Three cheers! :D Don't you love how Eva's feet hang just the right distance down her horse's sides? So rare. Her head's a little big, but a lot of that is the mass of thick hair.

      The Makies totally need a horse! Great idea! I might have a pretty good candidate right here in the house, too. I will investigate and maybe post some picture on Facebook later...

      Thank you, Jocelyn!

  6. Thank you for another wonderful review. And thanks also for clearing up a bit of a mystery. I bought a Paradise rider doll a couple of years ago, but didn't know what I had. I was pretty sure she was an equestrian, but she sure didn't look like the Breyer dolls. Now I know. Here are the pics I took of her at the time. Her jacket has a different fabric and she was missing her boots. I named my girl Penelope and quickly redressed her.

    I also think Mini Julie looks pretty cute in Penelope's jacket and breeches.

  7. Hello!

    When you started doing these riding set reviews, the first thing that came to mind for me were the amazing horses from schleich. My mother actually gave me one of those instead of the Breyer horse I had asked for. They are one of my personal favorites, as they have realistic faces, great proportions, and are hand painted. While the horses and riders have zero articulation, they have a great weight to them, and a realistic charm that I think makes up for it. Schleich puts a good deal of effort into replicating individual breeds of horses. They also sell bridle and saddle sets. A personal favorite of mine are the faerie riding sets, that come with a horse and "elf" rider. I absolutely recommend them, and I have seen them on amazon before.


  8. While poor Merlin can't compete at all against the personality in Cimarron's pose and face, the fact that his only expressions are blank or happy and that his articulation makes him look like he's only walking slowly give him this kind of dopey, sleepy cuteness. He has a kind of innocent, incidental charm that I would have fiercely loved as a child. Or maybe I just love his name--I have a black cat who is also named Merlin. ;)

  9. I wonder if it's the name but Eva looks slightly snotty like the other Eva. This is not near as dramatic, but I still prefer Daria face a bit more she just looks sweeter.- GEM

  10. Eva "looks the part" imho. That shot of Eva and Merlin facing the camera is especially good. I was never into horses, although I do find them beautiful. What I do remember from my childhood are some wind up toys. Maybe that's why I fell for the furreal friends ponies. The gait on these little horses is endearing and so one came home with me, although I've been tempted to buy more than one.

  11. I guess I should have specified the smaller snuggimals of the ponies in this line .As for the bridle, if it were mine I would disassemble it and get at it with an exacto knife, sharpie, and even work with the buckles. Metal snips and a soldering tool might do the trick or I would use painted chipboard if necessary or any one of other possibilities. I'm sure you could find smaller buckles if you didn't want to go that route. The stitching is also unnec. heavy handed.

  12. The horse's face reminds me of My Beautiful Horses (I always got them in magazines as a child)

  13. Thank you for this review! I just purchased a Breyer horse for myself because I missed my collection from childhood (long gone). But when I went to choose a Breyer doll, I was disappointed at the big-faced models available. I'm thrilled to know about Paradise Barn Buddies as an option. I just order a "Grace" doll (red-haired!) and saddle set at fire-sale prices online per your recommendation. Your obvious joy and reflections on playing with these dolls and fabulous (some hilarious) photographs have inspired me to feel free to enjoy them again, too. Thank you!

  14. The standing martingale should attach to noseband not throatlach. :)

  15. I just talk about the photos! Pretty kids photos and it is my earnest desire to riding but unfortunately i have no horse

  16. These sets have smooth-skinned ponies and little riders that look like miniature Barn racing

  17. Merlin-I agree with you on a lot of points. The saddle had me drooling! The halter and bridle were cringy.

    She rides beautifully and looks fantastic! Lovely face.

    Hopefully Angry Eva won't come after her.