BreyerFest has live horse exhibitions, a trade fair, crafts, a dog agility show and a petting zoo, but for Kaitlin Mitchell, 9, it all comes down to one attraction: "plastic horses."
The event, which is celebrating its 20th birthday, is expected to draw about 7,000 people to the Kentucky Horse Park this weekend, said Kathleen Fallon, spokeswoman for Breyer Animal Creations.
The festival is centered on the company's hand-painted, molded-plastic models of horses, which hobbyists collect, customize and show.
Kaitlin, of Hot Springs, Ark., said she came to BreyerFest in lieu of a birthday party. She was painstakingly applying paint to a tiny model Saturday afternoon.
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"He's going to be a bay," she said. "He's going to be either an Arab or a Morab."
Fallon said the models date to the 1950s, when the Breyer Molding Co. of Chicago got an order from Woolworth's for a plastic horse that would be used to decorate a mantel clock.
The decoration proved so popular that the company began making plastic horses for children to play with, but, Fallon said, the company "never thought to make saddles and bridles and all the horse accessories."
So, out of necessity, children began making their own, and a hobby was born. Now, it's seemingly enjoyed by as many adults as kids.
Marianne Schenning, who said she has been collecting Breyer horses for 40 years, was at the end of a long line waiting to get into the Breyer Store on Saturday afternoon.
She had in hand a special ticket that would allow her, she hoped, to snag some of the special-run models available only to attendees who bought three-day passes.
"You can't get them any other place, so if you're a collector, you're here," said Schenning, of Kenosha, Wis.
She said her collection already numbers about 700 horses.
"I have a special room, but it's so full they've kind of made their way around the house," she said. "There isn't any fun in having them if you can't enjoy them."
Karen Mikaelian of Los Angeles brought her 14-year-old daughter for their first BreyerFest experience.
"My daughter is a serious collector," she said, noting that they had acquired 24 new horses since arriving at the show.
If she eventually loses interest in the collection, Mikaelian said, "maybe it'll pay for college."
But collecting is only part of the experience.
Other aspects of the hobby include making accessories and backdrops for the horses and assigning pedigrees to them. And then there are the horse shows.
"The big thing is looking for the right model to show," said Jennifer Bui of Atlanta, who provided a demonstration Saturday on assigning breeds to Breyer models.
Although the breed the horse is supposed to represent is printed on the box, Bui said researching horse breeds and figuring out what class to enter a particular model in is important.
"You want it to depict real life as close as possible," she said, noting that she looks at the paint job, seams in the plastic and the "expression in the eyes."