About a year ago I stumbled upon Boy-O-Boy Bridleworks and instantly fell in love with owner/designer Amanda’s beautifully woven browbands, leads, belts, dog collars and more. The design and color combination possibilities were endless and I immediately knew I had to get something for Donny.
As time passes, I find my BOB collection slowly but steadily growing. I now have a browband for Donny in custom colors I picked out with matching belt and horse name bracelet! (Don’t worry, feature coming soon!) Anything you can dream up, Amanda can make a reality. I’ve had such a wonderful time getting to know Amanda, that I asked if I could share her story with the world. Luckily, she said yes! After learning a little more about her and how Boy-O-Boy Bridleworks came to be, I fell even more in love with the company, and I think you will too.
So read on to learn about the pony, Macaroni, who sealed Amanda’s fate in forever being an equestrian, Boy-O-Boy, the horse who served as the inspiration behind the name of the company, how Amanda traveled to England to fine-tune her skills & learn from a master saddler and so much more.
Back Where it All Began…
Horses have always been a HUGE part of my life. Although I grew up in New York City, I was totally horse-crazy as far back as I can remember and kept bugging my parents for a pony. My mom and dad thought it was important for me and my siblings to get out of Manhattan on weekends and in the summer, so while I was growing up we were always lucky enough to have a country house. To this day, one of my all-time happiest memories is of Christmas when I was about five: I literally could not believe my eyes when a horse van pulled up and out came my very own pony! Macaroni, who had belonged to my cousins until they outgrew him a few years before, had been taken out of (a very comfortable) retirement for me so, looking back, I’m pretty sure I was a lot happier to see him than he was to see me. Mac and I had many trail rides and swims together, a first horse show and first jumps, a few falls, and lots of hanging out together. He gave me (and my sister after me) a lifelong love of riding.
After I outgrew Macaroni myself, I moved on to a series of wonderful larger ponies and horses. I showed in the pony hunters and also did some foxhunting and eventing in Upstate New York, where our country house was at the time. When I was about twelve, my family started spending our weekends and summers on Long Island instead. Throughout my junior years I rode with Anne Aspinall at the Topping Riding Club, first on my large pony, Farnley Acorn, and then on my junior hunter, Lexington Green.
I wasn’t around horses much in college, but not long after I graduated my dad died and my mother was appointed US ambassador to Ireland, where I started riding again. I foxhunted, rode friends’ horses and helped gallop the polo ponies who lived down the road every chance I got, but in Ireland I really fell in love with showjumping and never looked back.
Nowadays I ride in Upperville, Virginia, and show my Dutch Warmblood, Dealbreaker (a.k.a. “Zack”), in the Medium Amateur Owner Jumpers. My old jumper, Boy-O-Boy (“Bob”) is retired now, but lives on the same farm with his mini, Izzy. I originally got my other Dutch Warmblood, Vavoom (“Timmy”), as a High A/O Jumper prospect for myself, but he ended up exceeding our wildest hopes and is now an FEI horse with my trainer, Tiffany Cambria. My feeling is that the horse will let you know what his job should be. I certainly have no business jumping 1.60m, but if Timmy can do it competitively and comfortably, then that’s what he should do. And if that ever changes, I’ll have a kick-ass High Amateur horse!
The Art of the Craft
I’d always loved the colorful ribbon browbands I saw on horses and ponies at shows, events, polo matches, race meets and sales around Ireland, but I never seemed to be able to find them in tack shops (typically, children learn to make their own in Pony Club there). So, back in the US, I started experimenting by making them for my own jumpers, starting with Boy-O-Boy.You know that old horseman’s proverb that goes something like, “Every rider gets one great horse”? If that’s true, then Boy-O-Boy was my great horse. A lot of times when people used to see Bob at shows, they’d stop me and say, “I’ve always loved those old ribbon browbands. Where do you get them?” I didn’t know, so I started offering to make them for their horses. One Christmas I made matching belts for friends and all of a sudden I began getting requests from their friends. Eventually, stores started calling too.
Up to that point I’d been a working historian and writer, but I suddenly found out I had Lyme disease. After I started getting treated for the crippling joint pain and fatigue, I took some time off and my husband encouraged me to go to England to study with a master saddler. In England I learned not only how to cut and sew leather, but critical details like how to tell a good hide from a bad one and which hardware and stitching are correct for which applications. The pony-crazy little girl in me had always been interested in the history of horsemanship, but in England I also learned about the history of saddlery and the saddler’s craft. I’m the sort of person who’s always got a project going – a needlepoint belt or a crocheted scarf or whatever. I’d been curious for a while about learning to work with leather and make and repair tack, especially since more and more people were asking me to make ribbon browbands and belts for them. (Until then I’d just been buying those old fashioned, flat hunting browbands and weaving ribbons around them). Silver lining: Lyme gave me the chance to get out and do it.
Before I’m comfortable selling anything, the prototypes of all the browbands, belts, and collars I make get tested for months at the stable in Virginia where my horses live, to make sure they’ll hold up to the kind of punishment that only a barn can dish out. Luckily, my trainers and barn friends (along with their horses and dogs) have been very indulgent with my experiments.
While I work with top-quality English and American hides, the ribbons and webbing I use are manmade. This helps all the items I make stay as vibrant, durable, stain-resistant, and colorfast as possible. I hope it also gives their new owners confidence that their belt, browband or collar will be in use for years to come, whether they wear them through a water element, in the blazing sun, or just walking around town. I still make all of the items myself by hand, start to finish, from weaving the ribbon patterns to sewing on the leather and hardware. I don’t just oversee the quality, I create it.
Each of the main Boy-O-Boy Bridleworks weave patterns (like a lot of the color combinations) is named for the first horse (or person or dog) to wear it. Boy-O-Boy was the first horse I made a ribbon browband for, and because he started it all I named the company after him.
The History Behind Those Colorful Browbands
Growing up as a little barn rat who liked to read, I think I first saw pictures of horses and ponies wearing ribbon browbands in books; they’ve been in use in Europe, particularly the British Isles, for centuries. As a historian, I’ve always been fascinated and moved by the ancient partnership between people and their horses. As a maker, I love being part of a longstanding tradition of crafting items for horses and their riders. As a rider myself, well, I just love horses.
Boy-O-Boy browbands, like all the items I make, are part of an age-old tradition of using colors in association with equestrian pursuits. Medieval knights (along with their horses and even their dogs and falcons) would have worn the colors of their liege lord while in his service. Modern versions of the same tradition persist in racing silks and eventers’ cross-country colors, as well as barn, hunt, and polo team colors. While I produce a line of belts, browbands, collars, and leashes every year in Boy-O-Boy Bridleworks stock/ready-to-ship colorways, about two-thirds of my business involves making up these same items in custom color combinations. I certainly use plenty of the muted, earthy tones that have been the mainstay of the traditional equestrian palate since the Victorian age, but I also work with much more vibrant, modern color combinations, especially in my custom work. Hence Boy-O-Boy Bridleworks’ tagline, “Show your true colors.”
What’s Next for BOB?
Boy-O-Boy Bridleworks Project Number One for 2018 is to find a larger workspace! It’s really exciting (and a little nervewracking) that the company’s grown so much over the past three years. I think I’ve found the right industrial space to fit all my machinery and hardware and all those spools of ribbon – I’ll keep you posted.
Beyond that, I’d like to keep building the company and the product line and see where it goes. Without giving away too much, this year be on the lookout for new items like saddle pads and maybe watchbands.
I first started making ribbon browbands not only because I love the way they look on a horse, but because I just like making stuff. Now that Boy-O-Boy Bridleworks is a going concern I’m really committed to keeping the items 1) made by hand, 2) out of the best quality materials and 3) in the USA.
Look for the Green!
I deliberately chose a bright, spring green for the Boy-O-Boy Brideworks logo and tags. The color green has very old equestrian associations, of course, but since a lot of the things I make are modern interpretations of classic equestrian items, I decided to use a brighter, non-traditional shade since it really pops against the vibrant colors I often use, especially in my custom work.
It’s such a thrill and an honor to see people – and horses and dogs – wearing the items I make! Whenever I spot those woven ribbons on someone’s belt at a horse show or a dog with that telltale spot of green on his collar, it’s a great reminder of how far the company has come. It’s such a privilege and a joy to make beautiful things every day that make people happy.
Stay tuned for upcoming features on how I picked my colors, my favorite BOB items for gifting and how I plan to get a little unique in the hunter ring this upcoming show season without breaking the dress code!