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Footing Surfaces for Model Horse Show Photos

Choose Materials for the Ground of a Model Horse Diorama


Breyer Stablemate model horse standing on a sand footing

Sand footing used for Breyer Stablemate scale model.

Photo copyright 2010 Jeanne Grunert, Licensed to About.com Inc.

Now that you've decided upon a backdrop theme and found the ideal photograph to carry out the theme, it's time to build the footing surface for your model horse show photo diorama. Footing surface refers to the ground, the surface upon which the model stands. Like the background and props, it must be in the same scale as the model horse. It also has to be low enough to show off the model's legs and hooves, which are part of the overall picture and add to the judge's perception of the model's quality, finish, breed characteristics and conformation. Many hobby, craft and home items work well for show ring surfaces in model horse dioramas.

Types of Surfaces

There are several popular choices for faux ground or footing surfaces for model horse show photos. Each has its pros and cons.

  • Cat litter: Plain clay cat litter (the kind without odor control crystals) creates a smooth, even surface for most nearly every scale of model horse. It looks best in barnyard or show ring scenes where you might encounter a groomed surface. It's inexpensive and easy to find in stores nationwide. Be sure to place a tray, such as a baking sheet, on the table first before pouring out the litter. Keep models away from the area until the dust settles; most brands of clay cat litter have a lot of dust, which can settle among the cracks and crevices in a model horse's mane and tail and create an unattractive appearance.
  • Sand: Bags of masonry or building sand are available at home and garden centers and hardware stores nationwide. The small particles work well for show ring scenes, micro mini scale models, and beach scenes.
  • Fish tank gravel: Naturally colored fish tank gravel works well for smaller scale model horses. It can be expensive, but if you have some at home, you can probably repurpose it for your diorama.
  • Dirt or soil: Yes, plain old dirt or garden soil can be used. Keep the diorama outside, however, if you're digging in the garden. Insect larvae lurking in the soil may hatch in the warm temperatures indoors, leading to unwanted pests.
  • Model railroad grass: Those long sheets of model railroad and hobby grass create a smooth green carpet. It's low enough to be in scale with very tiny horses, such as micro minis. Unfortunately, such surfaces tend to resemble Astroturf and rarely create a realistic facsimile of real grass for larger scale model horses. Another drawback is the scratchy surface; if a model tips over, it can lead to scratches, which not only detract from the appearance but also decrease the model's value and showing ability.
  • Cotton batting: Choosing footing surfaces for winter scenes can be tricky. Some hobbyists use cotton batting, the kind sold in rolls for quilting, to create snow. Others buy cans of fake spray-on snow during the Holiday season and use this to cover the base of their scene. You may need to experiment with cotton or the rolls of faux winter snow sold during the Holidays for the miniature house sets.

Choose the Right Surface for the Scene

All of these materials are easy to obtain online or locally. The trick is choosing the right footing to accent the scene. Review actual photos of horses in scene similar to the one you're trying to recreate. Consider the surface actually used at real horse shows, for example. Most show rings are dirt, grass or sand, depending on the arena. Indoor arenas typically have sand or similar surfaces while outdoor rings are built with grass, dirt or sand. Barnyard scenes call for dirt, grass or some combination. Beach scenes call for sand. When in doubt, choose something simple and unobtrusive.

Keep the surface below the horse's hooves. Judges must look at model horses from hoof to ear tip, nose to tail, to evaluate quality, conformation and breed characteristics.

Tricks of the Trade for Model Horses with Bases

Many Breyer horses and other model horses are affixed to bases or come with detachable bases, depending upon the pose or the gait of the horse. You can use sand or cat litter footing to cover the base and make the model appear even more realistic. Use a deeper tray and bury the base gently in the material.

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