These horses dance silently in frozen stances, their sculptured muscles, tapered legs and delicate hooves exuding power and grace in every detail. They are Breyer horse models, and others from manufacturers such as Peter Stone, Hartland, Black Horse Ranch and Blue Ribbon Stables. The equines arranged across the shelves and shelves and shelves of three rooms in Gouyton's home comprise one of the largest collections of model horses in the United States.
Upon entering the sanctuary of rooms where her huge herd is stabled, this long-time horse lover was instantly enraptured. Only halfway listening to Gouyton, I put too much trust in the recorder in my hand as the same force that had compelled her to collect that many models overtook me.
Her voice faded as my mind wrapped around the horses. Blacks and bays, Arabians and Appaloosas, classic racehorses and grungy Icelandic ponies, rearing, standing proud or in a flat-out run, every imaginable model was there.
I picked up a black and white Paint and was enthralled with my immediate bond to it. The weight and shape of it felt comfortably known in my hands. A ghost of a memory transported me back into the realm of a nine-year-old girl who had lived and breathed horses and I imagined I was swallowed up in the horse's flying mane as we galloped through the air. I ran my fingertips over another model, a small palomino. He was rearing, pawing the air menacingly; his golden-colored coat an alluring contrast to his flowing white mane and tail. Again the memories flooded through me, fast, familiar, and no more forgotten. I was overpowered with the urge to take all the horses from the shelves and spread them out on the floor (because of course they wouldn't stand on the bed) and play to my heart's content.
I wanted to examine each, try to recall the name I had given it as a girl, or make up another. I wanted to line them up and put on a show with all the works - halter classes, pleasure, even jumping; I could do it all with this herd. I wistfully wondered what happened to the Barbie van I'd had thirty years ago? With the pink top off, two traditional models had fit perfectly inside. Sometimes Skipper would drive to a horse show, but mostly the dolls lay in a heap in the corner.
No doubt about it, model horses had made my childhood bountiful. Standing there as a thirty-something adult, I came back to the present and replaced the model on the shelf, quietly grateful I hadn't lost the desire to entertain the girl who had made me the woman I am.
Gouyton seemed to smile knowingly when I noticed her again. As a fellow horse fanatic, I felt she understood my reaction to her plethora of models. To her, these horses are invaluable.
"My collection is the one thing I've done well," said the 28-year-old. "I mean, I was never very good in school. The model horse world is something that always came naturally; my ability to remember and identify models, making tack, photography. It's something I'm good at, that people actually recognize me for. My models to me are my kids. Really I have three children; my dog (Sarah), my cat (Stupid), and my collection. At one point I did have the third largest collection (on the West coast), but I've fallen back in ranks. I'm not sure how many there are now. I think I cascaded over the 3,000 number a while ago."
Gouyton's sense of humor and optimistic outlook is obvious upon meeting her, but the courage she must muster to get by daily is not so apparent. Under her wolf tattoos and vibrant demeanor, her body is failing her.
Gouyton has suffered from a terrible array of debilitating diseases; diabetes, heart problems, tuberculosis and a neuro-muscular disease that has still not been fully diagnosed. She said, "It doesn't follow the rules of any one disease at all. There isn't a test out there so far that has shown anything."
Herself horseless, Gouyton used to care for live horses several years ago, but they mean hard work and unfortunately her failing health keeps her from such endeavors today.
Her ailments require Gouyton to take 14 different medications a day. She is often in pain, so she cannot work at a conventional job. Her world is her three children and the online friends she's met in the model horse field.
Most of her collection is from Breyer, probably the most well known model horse manufacturer in the world. But there are many other model styles from various manufacturers out there too. She admitted, "If it's a horse with four legs and a tail, I collect it.
"Phar Lap & Stud Spider will always be my all time favorites, no matter how many new molds and sweet looking horses come out. I'm only missing two Phar Laps until that conga line is complete. I just got Night Deck & Night Vision, the Black Horse Ranch Lady Phase & matching foal, oh, and the original bay Hanoverian - been waiting for him for a long time! I have a wood grain semi-rearing mustang coming in. Have I mentioned how much I love my collection?"
The wood grain mustang she spoke of recently listed on Ebay at a starting bid of $10. At the end of the bidding war, the lucky winning buyer purchased the rare model for $550, proof that this business can be quite lucrative.
While most admirers buy models in the original finish (OF), there are those creative artists like Gouyton who remake the OF horses into live show quality (LSQ).
She explained, "I do remake horses, but not much. It's a lot of hassle and the resin putty is really expensive, so mostly I repaint and do some minor resculpting like more detail in the mane and tail or filling in mold flaws.
"It is kind of fun if you're in a really bad mood, to take a model horse and a hacksaw and cut its head off. It's a great stress-reliever." She might then attach that head to another's body by heating the plastic resin with hot water or a hair dryer and manipulating it into the shape she wants. Then she sands the seams, paints it, and it becomes a brand new horse.
One horse she has recently done is a Breyer Standardbred pacer. It has a molded-on halter, so she used a wire cutter to cut most of it off and a nail file to shave down the rest, and smoothed the look with sandpaper. She then used gapoxio epoxy to resculpt the details. After that hardened for a few hours, more sanding was needed. It is a tedious procedure, but the end result was a beautiful piece of work.
She uses the epoxy to affix the proper anatomy for a male horse or to cut away part of the mane just behind the ears for a place for the bridle to fit, just like on a real horse.
Gouyton's father, Roy, said he sometimes watches his daughter making over the models. "She has a paintbrush that has only one bristle," he said as he shook his head in wonder at the detailed perfection he's seen her pursue. That particular paintbrush may be used to detail the eyes of a model to obtain absolute accuracy.
A person can get lost for hours fussing over the extravagant details, said Gouyton. She explained how the mane of one model could be sanded off and real hair fit in its place. The tail too could be sanded, leaving only a realistic tailbone in place to support the real hair when completed. She has added horseshoes and chestnuts and resculpted muscles to get the effect she desires.
As for painting, she uses a sponge to get a dappled roan effect, which is basically white hairs mixed with the other colors of the horse's hide. She likes making creative designs on Paints and Appaloosas.
Gouyton has shipped some of her creations south to be shown by a client. She said, "Down south there are a lot of live shows like Breyerfest where people bring their models in and they're judged just like a real horse show."
They are tacked up for English or Western performance classes, trail classes, etc. Gouyton's sister, Kathy, added, "Horseshows are the only time adults actually let children touch their horses because children are faster at changing tack."
Kollean elaborated, "Generally they get their kids involved because little tiny fingers are better at doing up little tiny buckles."
The woman showing her horses is someone Gouyton has traded models with and does some remodeling for. This hobby has created lasting long-distance friendships via the Internet for Gouyton, who does not get out much because of her poor health. She said, "I'm always willing to give out information about Breyers for model horse people. It's really hard for our kind to find each other up here in Alaska.
"I have customers and people I've met through the hobby online who send me Christmas and birthday cards. We send each other little horsy things like tack, or tiny custom models for birthday presents."
Besides working on collecting, collaborating and remodeling, Gouyton is a talented artist with painting wildlife pictures. She has designed her own website as well that can be viewed at: http://members.tripod.com/Stone_Wolf_Creations/Index.html
My insistence offer to purchase some of Gouyton's OF models produced only a quiet smile and shake of her head. But there is hope - about thirty boxes of horses she has yet to even open. She promised she'd dig through them and see if there is just one she can part with. I'll just have to be patient.