British Equine Collectors' Forum

For All British Model Horse Collectors

Customising Model Horses

A Basic 'How to' Guide

Customising Terms

Although many customising terms are common currency world-wide, some terms may be used in slightly different contexts in different countries.  The definitions listed below are those accepted as standard in the United Kingdom (and some other countries, such as Sweden).

  • Airbrushed - An airbrush is a sophisticated type of spray gun used by many professional customisers to give a very smooth, subtly blended and shaded finish to models. Usually regarded as indicating a good standard of workmanship.
  • Anatomically correct - Used to mean that the model has been given the correct genitalia for its sex.
  • Crafter - new US term for customiser.
  • Custom (cust., c. or cu.) - A model which has had its original mane and tail and all seam lines, logos, etc removed, and has been repainted and given a hair mane and tail. This is now used to cover a broad spectrum of models, from straight repaints to repositioned models.
  • Dremel - Hand-held power tool used by some customisers to remove mane and tails, carve out details in ears, hooves, etc., hence Dremeled or Dremeled-out.
  • Flocked - A model which has had a 'furry coat' spray applied, cannot be repainted.
  • Haired/rehaired - A model which has had its original, moulded mane and tail replaced with a hair one.
  • Handpainted - A model which has been painted using conventional brushes.
  • Rehaired (reh.) - see Haired.
  • Repainted (rep.) - A model which has been painted, normally without removing the original mane and tail, but with some rubbing down of seams, etc.
  • Repositioned (repos.) - A model which has had its stance changed. Covers all changes from simple heads turned to radical work (e.g. standing horse to galloping horse).
  • Resculpted (res.) - A model which has had part of its body (normally the head) completely replaced by the customiser with a totally new, original work (often in milliput or resin).
  • Veining/veined - A model to which major veins and arteries (usually on the face and legs) have been added.

Some Common Equipment and Materials

  • Acrylic - A type of quick drying water-based paint widely used by customisers. Comes in two types - one type is suitable for brush painting; the second comes in several versions which are suitable for use in airbrushes (e.g. Rowney CrylaFlow). Dries to a hard, water-proof finish.
  •  Alkyd - A type of paint halfway in characteristics between oils and acrylics. Can be used for hand painting but not in an airbrush.
  • Dalon - Brand of synthetic material used in paintbrushes to replace natural sable fur.  More hardwearing than sable, and so better for use with acrylic paints.
  • Epoxy putty - see Milliput.
  • Krylon - A very tough acrylic lacquer used to protect paint work on models.
  • Llama - A natural fibre to hairing models. Very fluffy, so normally used only on Native breeds, etc.
  • Martindale mask - A type of simple face mask used by customisers to avoid inhaling dust from airbrushes or abrasive paper, etc.
  • Masking fluid - A latex-based solution (like runny Copydex) sometimes used for masking out pinto markings, etc.
  • Mohair- A natural fibre produced by the Angora goat, the traditional material favoured for hair mane and tails.
  • Milliput - A brand of two-part epoxy putty widely used by customisers for filling holes, resculpting details, etc.
  •  0, 00, 000 - Sizes of small paintbrush. Size 0 sable or Dalon brushes are essential for painting details such as eyes. Larger sizes such as 2 or 3 are god for painting markings.
  • Oils - A type of paint used for handpainting models.  Blends well and gives a very natural looking finish, but can take several weeks to dry. Cannot be used in an airbrush.
  • Ramie - A plant fibre also used in hairing models.  Very fine, especially used for Arabs, TB's etc.
  •  Wet & Dry - A silicon carbine paper.  An abrasive paper especially good for rubbing down Breyers as it can be used dampened with water to give a fine surface finish, and also, when used in this way, minimises irritative dust.

IMPORTANT - We do not recommend that these techniques should be used by modellers under the age of 12, and we do stress that a responsible adult should oversee any young modellers using saws, craft knives, dyes, etc.

There are many techniques involved in customising model horses, so that it would be impossible to describe everything them all in a short information sheet.  What follows is therefore an introduction to the more basic processes as used on hard plastic models such as Breyers, Peter Stones, Copperfoxs or Magpies.  Other makes will need adaptation of the techniques.


  •  A model horse (a hard plastic make such as Breyer, Peter Stone, Copperfox or Magpie model)
  •  A small half-round file, about 1" (2.5cm) in width, neither very course nor very fine (from hardware store)
  •  Sandpaper - the best sort is actually silicon carbide paper (wet and dry) Grade 180 (from hardware or car accessory shops)
  •  A small hacksaw
  •  A dustmask (disposable ones available from hardware/DIY/car accessory shops)
  •  A two-part epoxy filler, such as Milliput (from model shops/DIY) or Plastic padding
  •  Kitchen foil
  •  Kitchen paper
  •  Undercoating paint; matt enamel paint or car spray primer
  •  Paints for the horse's coat - acrylic, oil or alkyd (from art shops)
  •  Brushes - preferably artificial sable and hoghair
  •  Real turpentine and white spirit if using oil paints
  •  Clear nail varnish
  •   'Tops' of mohair, Llama or Ramie, if your model is to have a hair mane and tail
  •  Dylon hot water dye
  •  An old saucepan
  •  Evostik Clear Adhesive, or possibly a PVA type white glue for fixing mane and tails.


This must be a primary consideration, and there are many points to consider.
Follow all safety precautions and read All label instructions, information and warnings.
  • Tie back Long hair.....don't wear loose or baggy clothing..... Keep pets and small children away from where you are working.....And remember never to eat, drink or smoke whilst you are working!
  • Use Protective Eyewear!! - ALWAYS Wear goggles or safety glasses when using knifes, sandpaper and dremels.
  • When cutting or sawing a model, try to hold it in a vice, and NOT your hand.  If it has to be in your hand, wrap your hand in a thick cloth or wear protective gloves, and always cut away from yourself.
  • A mask to filter out dust and spray is a very good idea.  Plastic dust and Milliput dust can cause irritation to the throat and lungs if inhaled and paint spray may also be harmful.  Always work in a well-ventilated area, and avoid breathing any fumes or smoke which results from heating a model, as the fumes given off are poisonous.  When sawing or filing, hold the model over a sheet of newspaper and bin the waste as soon as you have finished.
  • Any paints containing cadmium (e.g. Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow, Naples Yellow) or lead (e.g. Flake White) are poisonous, so don't suck your paintbrushes!  If you're airbrushing it is best to avoid these colours altogether unless you have a filtered air-booth to paint in.
  • Try using barrier cream or gloves on your hands before using any kind of epoxy filer and never put any kind of filer near your eyes or mouth.  Some of the substances could possibly be cancerous.  Always wash your hands very well when you're finished.
  • Most kinds of glue used for mending and customising models can cause bad blisters on the eyes if they have any contact with them, so don't let dried glue stay on your hands, always wash it off.
  • If using a power-tool for sanding, don't use it for long periods of time, take a rest every 5 minutes or so as several American customisers have suffered serious circulation and long term nerve problems as a result of this.
  • Think Safety First - Take Care at All Times, Prevention is Best - and Have Fun !! 

Preparing the model

If you are planning to have a hair mane and tail, you will need to remove the model's plastic one with a hacksaw.  The safest way to do this is while holding the model in a vice.  If possible, it is best not to remove the entire tail, but to leave a plastic dock on to which you can later build up the hair (see diagram below).  If you take off the whole tail you can later build up a dock with milliput on wire, but this is more likely to crack during the model's future travels.

Remove the mane by hacking off any big lumps with the hacksaw and rubbing down with the file.  Models without much plastic mane can simply be rubbed down, but if they have a heavy mane, removing it will probably leave a hole which will  need to be filled with Milliput.

If you wish to 'root' the mane into a slot in the neck, you will need to saw the slot.  It's easiest if you hold the model in the vice once more and start off with the hacksaw between the model's ears until you're through into the cavity, then remove the blade saw from the saw and continue down the neck with just the blade.  For safety, wrap the blade in a cloth while you are holding it.

If you're working on a Magpie model, you may wish to keep its nylon hair mane and tail, in which case you will need to mask them with masking tape and paper while you paint the model.  To replace the nylon hair with something else, cut the mane and tail as short as possible and then push them completely inside the model.  This will leave you with a neck slot which you may well want to make narrower (with Milliput) rather than wider.  If you are not going to root the mane into the neck you can fill the slot completely.  A Magpie model will have no dock; again it is best to build one up with Milliput on wire, especially if your model is of a breed with a high tail carriage.  For other breeds you may be able to achieve a good effect simply by inserting the new tail into the hole left by the old one.

You may well now have a model which has a few holes in it. Mix your Milliput and fill the holes. If they are large you will probably have to 'pad' the hole with crumpled kitchen foil. Stuff it into the hole until you have a firm foundation to build on. You may also need to take several goes at the filling, allowing the filler to dry overnight each time. You can save a lot of time sanding by smoothing the filler with a moist finger  (use tap water  - do not lick your fingers!) .  This is also the time to do any resculpting with the Milliput if you are changing the horse's type, e.g. giving it more muscles, a Roman nose, etc.  Roughen the surface of the model with the file before doing this, so the Milliput adheres to it better.

Next take your file and file off all rough edges which should not be on the model such as mould marks, stray lumps of Milliput, and bits of plastic mane and tail you haven't got rid of yet, etc.  Then use the sandpaper to get a really smooth finish. Using 'wet and dry' paper is an advantage here, used wet (under a trickling tap) it creates a fine slurry which washes away, instead of fine dust.  At this stage it may be obvious that some areas need more Milliput or sanding, so repeat the process until you are happy with it.

Remember to wear your dust mask while doing all your sawing, filing and sanding and work somewhere well ventilated, preferably Not in a bedroom or a food preparation area.


Give the model a coat of undercoat. At this stage white is best, preferably white matte enamel, either spray on or paint on.  The purpose of this is to show up all those areas which you thought were all right, but in fact need more filing or sanding.  You might like to examine the model under good light and ring all these areas with a pencil, then go back and work on them.  When you're happy, apply a final coat of undercoat.

The colour of the final undercoat is largely dependent on personal preference and what kind of paint you're going to use. If you are airbrushing, a white undercoat is best as it gives the coat colour a 'luminosity'.  If oil or alkyd painting, you may find it advantageous to paint the undercoat as near possible to the final coat colour, even including shadings, etc. If your final coat is to be hand painted in acrylics, you can use enamel - usually white, though perhaps a darker colour if the model is to be dark brown or black - or some people get satisfactory results from using car primer; white, grey or red oxide.  Primer and some enamels come in spraycans; if using these, remember to start your line before it hits the model and to use several light coats rather than one heavy one to  reduce the risk of paint runs. Also  follow the manufactures instructions printed on the can when using spray paint.  Remember also to do any spraying in a well-ventilated area  (it's best to be outdoors if possible). If using matt enamel make sure it is well mixed or it may turn glossy.


The exciting bit, where the model starts to come to life!  Styles of painting varies lots from person to person, and depends on the method used.  Experiment with paints and types of brushes until you find what you're happy with.  Some customisers use airbrushes, but these are a considerable investment and can be temperamental.  Traditional hand painting techniques are much easier for the novice and are used by many professional customisers too.  If hand painting it's useful to have a selection of flat, filbert (round ended) and round brushes in various sizes.  Avoid the very cheap nylon ones found in the pound shops, and buy quality Artist's brushes in hog hair or sable or synthetic equivalents.  A small make-up sponge or applicator can also be useful for shading and for giving mottled effects on greys and roans.

Different Paints vary in their characteristics.  Acrylic is easy as it mixes with water, but it dries so quickly that shading can be difficult, though you can now buy a additive that slows down the drying time ( ask your local art shop for more details).  Oils allow lots of blending to achieve a natural effect but can take months to dry, although you can add dryers to reduce this to around 24 hours ( ask your local art shop for more details).  Alkyds handle like oils but dry in 24 hours similarly. Both oils and alkyds require special thinners and brush cleaners - again ask for advice from the staff in art shops about these. Some painters use acrylics for the basic body colour, then add shading in thin oils.  However, the two types of paint cannot be mixed together.  If using an airbrush you must use acrylic paint especially formulated for airbrushes, not ordinary acrylic, there are many different makes available which are suitable for airbrushes, your local art shop should be able to help you with any questions.

It's not necessary to have a vast range of colours as you can blend them to create most shades. Useful basics are a medium brown (burnt sienna) a dark brown (burnt umber - not raw umber as it can make the horse go greenish !!), a red brown (red iron oxide) and a yellow ochre, as well as black and white.  Cadmium reds, oranges and yellows can be used but sparingly or they will have a 'glow in the dark' effect!  Metallic colours can also be helpful to give a sheen to the horse's coat.  And Remember when painting a grey to add a little brown or it will come out too 'blue'.
Kitchen foil makes a good palette for mixing your paints, or you can use an old saucer.  You can also buy palettes for acrylic paints that have special paper and a lid which stops the paint from drying out, so you can paint your model over a few days with out the fear of the paint going hard.

Always mix by adding the darker colour to the lighter and remember that the colour may vary a shade or two when dry.  With most paints you will have to build up several layers before the colour is solid.

However when you are painting, allow lots of time and attention to detail.  It's best to go away if you feel your concentration slipping (or your hand is getting tired) and come back later.  Colour photographs are essential reference when painting - don't just paint a flat colour but see how the coat colour shades on a horse, and also how the musculature produces shadow and highlights. When adding shading and black points etc, try to blend the colours smoothly into one another.  The head will probably need particular attention and many people like to do this either first or last.  If the model isn't to have a hair mane and tail you will need to paint its mane and tail with long hair-like strokes.

After all the coat and shading are done you will want to add final details like white markings, eyes, pink skin, etc. Most people do this by hand with acrylics, even if the model was painted by airbrush or oils. Go over white markings several times to make them solid. 

Paint the eyes with great care as give the overall character of the model, and use a small brush.

Try using the following method:

  1. Paint the whole eye and socket black
  2. Paint a brown iris covering most of the actual eye area
  3. Paint a black pupil in the eye, remembering that horse?s pupils are a horizontal oval
  4. Add a yellow ochre crescent under the pupil
  5. Add a highlight of pure white where the highlight naturally falls in the eye, and possibly other tiny ones in the eye corners.

You may need to go back after each stage and 'tidy-up' a bit but after a bit of practice you can use this technique even on Stablemates!

When the eyes are completely dry, cover them with a thin coat of clear nail varnish, using a paintbrush as the brushes in the bottles are too big, this will give the eyes a ?wet look?.


Mohair is a standard choice for hair mane and tails, but ramie can be good on light breeds and llama on Native ponies.  If it doesn't come in the colour you want, all can be dyed to your required colours using Dylon Hot Water Dye, made up to 1 pint. Do not dilute further.  Bring to the boil, add a length of hair and simmer briefly, but Don't stir it or you'll end up with a hideously matted rope!  Light colours may take up to 10 minutes; ramie tends to take appreciably longer than mohair.  Lift the hair from the pan with a stick or old spoon and rinse it well, then dry it thoroughly before use.

The process of hairing a model is difficult to describe, so please refer to the illustrations below.  Combing the swatches before gluing them may be useful.  Pulled manes and tails can be achieved by trimming the ends in a straight line, and plaits can be done with a little practice too!

To make the finished mane lie flat, tear some kitchen roll into long strips and dampen some of them.  (Don't use patterned kitchen paper, as the colours may run onto the model.)  Lay a dry piece one under the mane to prevent any excess dye marking the model. Then wrap the wet ones around the model's neck, flattening the mane on the side you want it to lie, and leave the model overnight. By the next day the kitchen roll should be dry and can be peeled off without harming the paintwork (some bits may need a rub with a wet finger). Gently comb out the mane and voila! - You have a finished, unique model - And your own unique creation!

If you are not happy with your results, try again and learn from your mistakes.  Also do ask advice from more experienced customisers - most will be only too happy to help.  Once you have started, the sky's the limit to what you can achieve.

Hairing How to ...

1 - Pull a switch of mohair from the hank, and tease it out flat. 

2 - Cut the switch in half ...

3 - Glue each half along the 'cut edge' on a peice of thin card or thick paper 

 4 - Allow to dry for a few minutes then rip it off the cardboard abd then trim the roots again if nessasary

5 - Switches of various sizes can be inserted to make the mane ( add a little more glue)

6 - If the neck has no slot, glue the already glues side of the switch to the neck, and fold over. 

 7 - Use longer narrower switchs to build up the tail on the dock, start from the end and working upwards.

8 - Remember if the tail is raised the hair will part allong the center of the dock.

There is a huge amount of online help and advice on Customising model horses.

The Model Horse Tutorials website has loads of links covering all sorts of topics.

Return to Main Guidesheet list

Go onto: Mending Broken Breyer Legs