A TALE OF THREE HORSES

Last modified: Saturday, January 6, 2001 6:20 PM

I dunno why, but things like this drive me crazy. For the last pic of the "Excalibur" page, I was forced to use the mule-like pygmy pony (right) which came with Formative International's (SOTW) Confederate soldier set. I knew it didn't look right, but I wanted to wrap up the page (a case of the web site wagging the dog). It seemed better than the gigantic Chestnut Ridge horsie (left), which suffered from weird proportioning in the legs, and some overly aggressive sculpting. Their next size down was even smaller than the SOTW, although it was a far superior sculpt. What's an anal-retentive type to do?

The answer lies in the Past... In the 1960s, Louis Marx produced a military-themed line of 12" figures to compete with Hasbro's GI Joe-- it didn't do very well, but eventually they found their niche in the western-themed "Johnny West" line. They also produced some medieval knights and vikings. The cool thing is that they produced horses for these figures. There are several different versions, including one (named "Comanche") with leg articulation. Most importantly, they're well-sculpted and look right (by my eye) for 1:6th scale figures. The one in the center above has several different names and colors, depending on which figure it went with; Johnny West's was named "Thunderbolt".

Consumerism is a bad disease, but when you piggyback "obsessive", it's downright dangerous to the pocketbook. Nevertheless, Sir Stuart and his horse Valor had to be bought, and really fit right in. It's also really great because he came with a bunch of accessories like a mace, morningstar, pistol & crossbow, which I can put to use elsewhere. Mall Gal looks really hip wearing his Spanish helmet-- a regular 'Mistress of the Whip' type.

But I digress... This article is supposed to be about the horse. The one at the top is nekkid, with no tack whatsoever, and looks like hell. The previous owner had tried to paint it, but then must have changed his mind. (But hay, he was cheap.) So I'm going to have to do something about that.

Rio Rondo sells all kinds of hardware and kits for making miniature tack-- believe it or not, miniature saddle-making is a separate hobby which dovetails with the broader hobby of collecting miniature horses. And there are some incredibly talented artisans who specialize in this. Unfortunately, that hobby has standardized along two different scales, both smaller than 1:6th, so you can't just buy one of their saddle kits. Some of the parts are probably useful, like the buckles-- but I haven't received my order yet, and I want to get started. Besides, this is supposed to be a medieval-style saddle, not an ornate western style.

The Saddle: Most of the saddles in the movie Excalibur were draped with fur, but that looked too plain. So I looked at a variety of references and got a general idea of the style. The saddle was first sculpted in Super Sculpey, and then wet leather was formed over it. When dry, the leather shell was pretty rigid. The "metal" plates at the ends were formed over the clay too, and glued to the leather shell. Certain critical spots were reinforced with putty from the underside, to ensure that the leather didn't lose its shape. (I've read that you can also dip the leather in wax to help it hold the shape, but that seemed awfully messy.)

I assumed that the stirrups sold by Rio Rondo would be too small, so I cast the Marx ones in metal, to save time. Grinding out the slots for the straps destroyed one of my Dremel bits, but I really didn't have a choice since none of the bits designed for metal were small enough.

All of this gets detailed and assembled later. There's a lot of work to do on this, including refinishing and painting the horse. The first thing I want to do is establish the overall look.

The bit/bridle/harness (whatever it's called) is a simple conglomeration. I changed my mind about doing this as an armored horse since that hides so much of the horse. I thought it was better to capture some of the general look of the movie. However, I wasn't slavishly accurate to the tack from the movie "Excalibur", mainly because I didn't understand the purpose of the centerline strapping. It's sad but true-- when you start dissecting movies, you start noticing mundane things like where they probably cut corners to save money, or where they took liberties just because it looked neat. So I looked at medieval reference pics, and tried to find some common elements, but there seem to be a lot of variations. So I winged it. I used metal buckle castings & pinheads for the detailing; otherwise it's just a lot of leather straps. The bit is made of a paperclip soldered to brass strip, decorated with a jewelry finding.

Before painting, the horse was puttied, sanded & primed. I didn't get all of the original tack melt marks out because some looked sort of like natural wounds. This is a fun airbrushing project: I don't use mine very often, and with something like this, you don't have to be very good! I laid down several different shades of brown, mixed with red and black, building up the color so that the transitions were subtle. I guess they're so subtle that can't even tell from the photo.

The horse does look a lot better now, considering that it was a banged up, poorly painted reject that no one else wanted. For right now, this is enough... but I was thinking of hacking off his head and reposing it. You don't feel like you're defacing a cultural artifact when you use junk like this, so consequently you have a lot of freedom to hack & sand.

04/29/99- The Rio Rondo stuff arrived, and this shows their Hardware Sampler Sheet ($15) compared with the buckle on the Messkit of the Dragon "Hans" figure. The RR stuff is more delicate and probably produced by an etching process, whereas the Dragon buckle is probably stamped. One of the complex shapes on the tree was broken-- no big deal, but it shows that the metal is slightly brittle. As I suspected, their large stirrups weren't large enough, so you'd still have to make those.

Rio Rondo's stuff is pretty pricey- a bunch of little parts add up quickly-- but you have to keep in mind that there aren't too many companies out there making this stuff. From what I've read about photo etching, it takes a lot of trials & peculiar equipment to get good results (kinda like beer-making). It's definitely easier to buy these than to make your own, and they probably look better too (Again, kinda like beer).

Unfortunately, their service isn't instantaneous-- I guess you get spoiled with companies that ship within 24 hours. All this means is that you have to keep yourself well stocked and don't let that inventory get low!

 


MEDIEVAL