Forever in Our Hearts:
Breyer Model Horses with Ocala Connections (Part 3)
Since releasing its first model horse in 1950, the Breyer Molding Company has become an icon. The demand for that first model caused the Chicago-based company to launch the Breyer Animal Creations® brand of model horses and accessories.
In 1984, the Breyer Animal Creations® brand was acquired by Reeves International, a long-standing name in the toy industry that was founded by Swiss entrepreneur Werner J. Fleischmann in 1946.
Reeves International continued to grow and expand the Breyer model line, and Breyer became known worldwide as the premier brand of model horses. Fleischmann’s son, Anthony, bought the business from his father in 1998. Breyer continues to be the company’s signature brand.
For decades, Breyer has been immortalizing famous horses–both fictional and real.
“We certainly have no shortage of notable horses to share. These horses and their stories are part of the foundation that has made Ocala such a uniquely horse-driven area for all these years,” says Valerie Dailey, broker/owner of Showcase Properties of Central Florida.
With this article, we wrap up our review of Breyer models with Ocala/Marion County connections. This series does not include every single horse from our area that had been made into a Breyer model, but we have covered the majority of them. (For more details about how models are selected and created, look back at Parts 1 and 2 in this series.)
“We certainly have no shortage of notable horses to share. These horses and their stories are part of the foundation that has made Ocala such a uniquely horse-driven area for all these years.”
–Valerie Dailey, broker/owner of Showcase Properties of Central Florida
(Breyer model #700497)
Bold Reflection, a handsome double registered Palomino American Quarter Horse gelding owned by Terry and Darlene Geiser, was the first police horse ever made into a Breyer model.
Bred, foaled and trained by the Geisers, Bold was born in 1981 and hailed from the bloodlines of champions. Before becoming a police horse, Bold was the mount of choice for the Geiser’s four boys, who showed him in halter, Western pleasure, and trail.
Darlene served 23 years as a sergeant with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office/Police in both the K-9 and mounted units. From working the streets to crowd control at the football stadium and for other major events, Bold was Darlene’s trusted partner for 14 years.
“He was bold like his name. He was so smart and absolutely knew his job. One time we chased a suspect into a bar and Bold pinned him up against a pool table for me to arrest him,” says Darlene.
“He saved me several times during street police work. He never flinched when he was hit in the face by an ice ball someone in the crowd threw at the Gator Bowl one year,” she recalls, adding that Bold later suffered some vision loss due to that injury.
Bold was honored nationally as Police Horse of the Year in 1995. In addition to being a working police horse for 14 years, he also became known for his appearances in local television commercials, stage plays, and at equine expos nationwide. He even helped wake up Snow White when he appeared in that play at what was then the Jacksonville Civic Auditorium.
Bold also fulfilled the dreams of wheelchair-bound 14-year-old Carrie Claytor of Ocala to ride him through the Make A Wish Foundation.
“Carrie’s wish was to ride the golden police horse, so we took Bold over to the hospital,” recalls Darlene. “Bold put his head in her lap. I got on him with her to help her. Then I slid off the back and led him around and she rode for about 30 minutes. The nurses said it was the first time they ever saw her smile.”
Together, Bold and Darlene made a formidable team in Mounted Police Horse Competitions, winning numerous medals.
The year Bold became a Breyer model, the Geisers were doing police horse demonstrations in New York City and stopped by the Breyer factory in New Jersey on the way home.
“Bold was in the trailer and all the employees came out and got their pictures taken with him,” says Darlene.
At BreyerFest® in 1997, Darlene and Bold rode to the song “Born to be Bad,” as Bold demonstrated the ultimate desensitization by jumping through a solid paper wall and running down a suspect across the arena in a chase and arrest staged with the Lexington Police Department.
The Geisers bought their Reddick area farm in the early ‘90s. They taught college-accredited mounted police horse courses there and nationwide from 1999 to 2010. The Geisers also held many “Trail Rider Safety and Self-Defense Clinics,” teaching riders how to desensitize their horses to be safe in traffic and other settings.
Bold died in 2000 and was buried on the farm.
“He was bold like his name. He was so smart and absolutely knew his job. One time we chased a suspect into a bar and Bold pinned him up against a pool table for me to arrest him.”
–Darlene Geiser, Owner
(Breyer model #711356)
Working with up to 16 horses performing at liberty would be impossible for most people, but for Sylvia Zerbini, it’s a way of life. The legendary trainer was born into a family of performers and has made a career of working with horses in magical liberty performances.
Zerbini, who is based in the Ocala area, toured for years with Cavalia, the highly acclaimed equestrian spectacle, wowing audiences with her signature Grande Liberté performances, which are best described as “equestrian ballet.”
“The best thing about what I do is that I’m working with God’s greatest creation: the horse. Horses are my love and my passion; they’re so sensitive and willing,” she says.
Leading her group of incredible horses is Rico, a stunning grey Arabian/Andaulsian stallion whose rearing displays have amazed audiences around the world. Zerbini bought the horse when he was just 3 years old, and he was part of her show within months.
Rico became a Breyer model in 2019, with 1,000 models released at that year’s BreyerFest®. Fans were thrilled to meet the stallion and see his kind personality, especially when he interacts with children.
For the BreyerFest® 2022 Celebration of Horses Evening Show, Zerbini produced and directed “Power of Your Dreams,” a 70-minute equestrian performance featuring over 40 horses, including Rico.
“People say Arabs are fiery and difficult, but I love them. They’re more playful than other breeds and seem to enjoy their work so much. Even though I use stallions, they don’t want to fight or attack each other.”
–Sylvia Gerbini, Owner
(Breyer model #711384)
“I was only aware of two Connemara stallions in Florida at the time and I thought there should be more because they’re so wonderful,” says Kilcrease, who bought WH Topgun as a yearling.
‘He hadn’t been handled much and was pretty feral, but as he grew up, it was obvious he was quite special,” she says of the 2004 handsome dappled buckskin colt who eventually became a stallion prospect at her Elderglen Farm in Ocala.
“The 2020 BreyerFest was about Celtic breeds, and they were looking for a Connemara to represent the breed,” recalls Kilcrease, adding that the American Connemara Pony Society informed Breyer that WH Topgun would be an ideal ambassador based on his accomplishments.
The stallion, shown for eight years by Elliott Timmons, competed in eventing and was 2015 Connemara of the Year. Topgun has also been a success as a stallion; three of his offspring are USEF and USDF title holders.
“Breyer contacted me and had me take a ton of pictures from all different angles. I sent all those photos, and they used them to make the model,” says Nancy. “He competed in eventing at preliminary level, which is why his model is of him jumping.”
Unfortunately, 2020 was during the height of the pandemic.
“They ended up doing a virtual BreyerFest®. We did a zoom interview with me outside and Topgun in the video. So that’s how BreyerFest® worked that particular year,” she recalls. “It was a disappointment not to have it in person, but Covid-19 happened, and it is what it is.”
After having owned Topgun since buying him as a yearling, Nancy sold him in May 2022 to Elliott Timmons, who rode the stallion throughout his competition career.
Nancy was moving back to New Hampshire and knew how much Topgun loved his rider. “I thought the horse should stay in his hometown of Ocala where he’s been his whole life, so now he’s at Elliott’s farm in Ocala,” says Kilcrease.
“I was only aware of two Connemara stallions in Florida at the time and I thought there should be more because they’re so wonderful.”
–Nancy Kilcrease, Owner
(Breyer model #711306)
Credit that to the stallion’s intelligence and natural talent and to Carole Fletcher, his owner, rider and trainer.
Fletcher purchased the handsome liver chestnut with the flaxen mane and tail as a nervous, unhandled 4-year-old colt in 2002.
“I bought him when his owner passed away. He was unbroken, so I did all his groundwork and under saddle training and of course, the trick training,” recalls Fletcher, whose Singin’ Saddles Ranch is located in Reddick, Florida.
After long hours of handling and patiently working with Magnifico, within about a year, the horse was on the road performing with her. He proved himself a top trick horse.
“I choreographed a routine with all his tricks and performed with him all over the country. We had a routine set to flamenco music. No one had done this with a Peruvian horse before. He also did a lot of high school movements, which was quite unusual for a Peruvian Paso,” says Fletcher.
“I did some difficult movements with him that I didn’t do with other horses, including a rear with a pirouette. Another was the horse jumping from one front leg to the other while moving forward. You rarely see this because it takes so long to train,” she notes.
“For a stallion, he had such a sweet, kind disposition,” she adds. “He was a very sensitive horse, which really helped his training, and he enjoyed performing.”
Fletcher and Magnifico were regulars at equine expos like Equitana and Equine Affaire. Adding to the exposure were her trick training manuals, Trickonometry, and her memoir Healed by Horses, detailing the incredible story of Fletcher’s surviving a devastating gasoline fire in 1975 in which over 65 perfect of her body was burned, and the vital role horses played in her recovery.
After one of their appearances at Equine Affaire, Fletcher was contacted by Breyer informing her they’d like to make a model of Magnifico. She supplied them with an array of photos to work from and saw the final model before it was completed.
Magnifico became a Breyer model in 2006, and the 500 models released at that year’s BreyerFest® quickly sold out.
Fletcher and her beloved stallion traveled and performed for 16 years.
“I just kept adding to his repertoire and he performed until just a year before he passed,” says Fletcher. “He passed in 2020 at the age of 22 and is buried on my farm.”
“For a stallion, he had such a sweet, kind disposition. He was a very sensitive horse, which really helped his training, and he enjoyed performing.”
–Carole Fletcher, Owner
(Breyer model #1270)
After being sold as a yearling, Afleet Alex went to trainer and pinhooker Robert Scanlon of Williston, Florida, for breaking and training. He was purchased out of Scanlon’s consignment at the Fasig-Tipton Midatlantic two-year-olds in training sale for $75,000 by trainer Tim Ritchie for a group of owners who raced under the name Cash is King Stable.
The colt’s name was influenced by his sire, Northern Afleet, and also partly because several children in the families of the ownership syndicate were named Alex or Alexandra. Fittingly, the owners donated a portion of his winning to Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a charity started by Alex Scott, a young cancer patient who began raising money for pediatric cancer research and sadly, died in 2004 at age eight.
Despite his rough start in life and being described as an “ugly duckling” as a yearling, Afleet Alex became a hero on the racetrack.
As a 2-year-old during the prestigious 2004 Saratoga meet, he won the Sanford Stakes-G2 and the Hopeful Stakes-G1. That fall he ran second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile-G1.
At three, he put himself on the 2005 Kentucky Derby trail after winning the Arkansas Derby-G2. Although he ran second to Giacomo in the Kentucky Derby-G1, he captured the remaining legs of the Triple Crown, winning both the Preakness Stakes-G1 and the Belmont Stakes-G1.
His most impressive performance came in the Preakness at the top of the stretch when the leader Scrappy T veered into the path of Afleet Alex and the two horses clipped heels. The crowd gasped as Afleet Alex stumbled dramatically, almost going to his knees, with jockey Jeremy Rose managing to stay aboard.
Miraculously, Afleet Alex regained his footing, dug in and showed true heart as he pulled away to win by over four lengths with one of the fastest final three-sixteenths of a mile in Preakness history.
Afleet Alex wrapped up his 2005 season by winning the Eclipse Award as Champion 3-year-old Colt. The multiple graded stakes winner retired with earnings of $2,765,800. With eight wins, two seconds and one third place finish, he was only off the board once in 12 career starts. Afleet Alex became a Breyer model the following year.
At the close of his racing career, he entered stud in 2006 at Gainesway Farm in Lexington where he stood for 16 seasons until being pensioned from breeding duties in January 2022. He sired 39 stakes winners, 14 graded winners, and six grade one winners. His progeny have earned over $51 million. Afleet Alex remains a popular retiree at Gainesway Farm where fans still visit him.
Imperador das Aguas JM
(Breyer model #711234)
Suitable for everything from working cattle to endurance and pleasure riding, Marchadors range from 14.2 to 16 hands. Gray is a dominant color, but the breed can also be chestnut, black, bay, buckskin and palomino.
Although there are over 500,000 registered Mangalarga Marchadors in Brazil, there are likely fewer than 500 purebreds in America. The breed was first imported to the U.S. in the early 1990s and the U.S. Mangalarga Marchador Association (USMMA) was founded in 2005 as the official registry in America.
Claudia Bellandi established her farm, CC Bellandi Marchadors, in Ocala after moving from Brazil in 2013. She has diligently represented the breed at equine events and helps American breeders by importing stallions and making frozen semen available.
Her stallion Imperador das Aguas JM was chosen by Breyer to be the Celebration Horse for BreyerFest® 2016: Carnival, and 8,000 models were made.
An imposing gray stallion, Imperador was only six years old at the time. He takes his job seriously and has traveled the country as a breed ambassador.
Given the abundance of talented horses that call Ocala/Marion County home, it’s a sure bet that we’ll see more Breyer models in the future commemorating some of these standout equines.
A sincere “thank you” to Breyer and Reeves International for their help throughout this series and for graciously providing all of the images.
Be sure to check out the first installment of our series about Breyer horses with Ocala connections :