If you go to the website of German toymaker Schleich, you can order horse figurines in dozens of breeds and in all different poses. The company, whose model horses are smaller than those of popular American brand Breyer, carries everything from a standing American Saddlebred gelding, in brown with a black tail and mane, to an all-black, trotting Hanoverian mare.
The one horse Schleich doesn’t carry? A model of your horse.
That’s where 17-year-old Saratogian Effie Levenson comes in. A lifelong horse lover, Levenson used to play with model horses when she was a kid but forgot all about her collection until she saw one at a Tractor Supply store about two years ago. Riding a wave of nostalgia, she decided to buy it. When she got home, she poked around the internet a bit and was surprised to find several Instagram accounts dedicated to the miniature horses and their accessories. She began making her own tiny horse blankets and repainting horses, which she had done a bit as a child, and eventually started altering the actual figurines themselves. She posted her creations to her Instagram account, and they were an immediate hit. “Initially, I wasn’t planning on selling anything,” she says. “But I got so many people saying ‘Can I buy this? Can I buy this?’ Eventually I was like, well, maybe I can start selling my stuff.”
Just over a year later, Levenson is now the owner of Sugar Rose Studios, a company that ships model horse products all over the world, boasts more than 26,000 Instagram followers and operates a wildly successful YouTube channel, where Levenson talks about all things model horses. Sugar Rose’s main commodity? Schleich horses that the teenager customizes, using an airbrush or acrylics, to look exactly like a customer’s own horse. Customers send her a photo, and Levenson helps them pick an existing Schleich horse that resembles the photo. She then gets to work repainting the horse, as well as sometimes changing its mane, tail or entire pose. She does the latter by sawing or sanding off the Schleich horse’s limbs or even its head (!) and replacing them or it with limbs or a head she sculpts herself from a self-hardening clay. “It’s pretty challenging,” she says. “You’re trying to get the anatomy to look exactly like a real horse, so it takes a lot of practice.”
For a business (and founder) so young, the obvious question is: What comes next? First up is college. Levenson will be a freshman at RPI this fall, where she plans to double major in biology and business management. As for Sugar Rose, she’s not sure how much time she’ll be able to devote to the business while she’s in school, but says the brand definitely isn’t going anywhere. And will she ever take her sculpting to the next level—i.e. sculpt an entire model horse from scratch? “I would like to once I get better at it,” she says. “That’s something I’d like to work towards.”