By Don Rosendale
For a sneak peek of what’s likely to be in the fall lines of Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, or maybe just for some fashion tips on what to wear for the “best-dressed” challenge at Rolex next year, maybe it’s time for a trip to Barbara Wadsworth’s pocket-sized shop, Horse Leap, in Amenia, New York.
It’s no secret that Seventh Avenue designers — sketch pad and Nikon in hand — venture to the little shop on Amenia’s main street to pore through Barbara’s racks of consignment clothes, getting inspiration for “authentic” hacking jackets and jodhpurs for Saks and Neiman customers who have no intention of ever putting a foot in a stirrup, but who still want to look the look.
For decades, until it closed, the chic place to make sure you had the right rat catcher for fall cubbing was M.J. Knoud on Fifth Avenue in New York City. So why has the center of gravity for authentic riding moved 89 miles north to Amenia, a town lacking the same resonance as say, Middleburg, Aiken or Millbrook?
“We have two active foxhunts right here in Amenia,” Barbara said. “Most of what people think of as the ‘Millbrook hunt country’ is actually in Amenia, and the Golden’s Bridge August hunter pace starts 20 minutes from the front door.”
The site of the Millbrook Horse Trials is also in Amenia, famous horse dealer David Hopper is 15 minutes from the store and Fitch’s Corners (another premier horse trial) isn’t far away. And if you don’t want to play on some of the private polo fields in Amenia, Mashomack is 15 miles cross country.
One guarantee that comes from shopping at Horse Leap is that the master won’t banish you from the meet for inappropriate attire. “You’d be surprised,” Barbara discloses, without naming any names, “how concerned people are that they are properly turned out for the meet.”
Riders come to Barbara where they know they’ll get the right color garters for their boots (white) and the proper rain gloves, fingers forward (and also white) tucked under the saddle. She’s not selling just clothes, but self-assurance, and Horse Leap sells authentic equestrian gear, either new or “slightly broken in.”
And while, of course, the hunter who pays $1,500 a month to stable his or her horse and a four-figure hunt subscription each fall would be worried about mere costs of a riding jacket and pair of britches, Barbara discreetly provides another service. After all, little Suzie in her jodhpurs eventually outgrows that $750 Melton jacket, and daddy’s bones become too creaky to ride so his $2,000 Huntsman “pinks” are of no more use. And it’s not the kind of stuff you put in a lawn sale.
It’s at that point that Barbara steps in, discreetly buying the used-but-still-perfectly-wearable riding clothes. And that it’s slightly worn is not a problem. “I’ve had people ask me to ‘rough up’ garments so they didn’t look shiny new,” she said.
“People who love foxhunting are also crazy about plates and ash trays and glasses with foxhunting scenes,” Barbara said, adding that one of her favorite pastimes is collecting decorated Haze Atlas glassware, painted with scenes of mounted horsemen chasing foxhounds chasing the fox. “It’s hard to find a full set,” she said. “So, I just buy a few pieces at a time until I can assemble a full set.
Another popular item in Barbara’s consignment section are Hermes scarves, typically showing saddles, bit or horses. On Madison Avenue, these are $450. In Horse Leap, $150 to $250.
Barbara is a 1984 graduate of the equestrian program at Mount Holyoke College, and came to Amenia to train horses and teach riding. But she eventually tired of that. “It’s awfully cold standing around a riding ring in filthy weather,” she said.
While most of Barbara’s customers may be from local foxhunts, shoppers visiting Horse Leap on a Saturday morning might find the design staffs from Seventh Avenue designers, such as Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, figuring out how to turn out authentic hacking jackets. Two hundred bucks, slightly worn, at Horse Leap — $750 at Saks Fifth Avenue next year.
About the writer: In earlier years, Don Rosendale competed successfully to the Third Level at dressage, Prelim in combined training and raced sports cars internationally. He now lives a quieter life on The Oaks, in the Millbrook hunt country raising Thoroughbreds for the track and organic vegetables for the tables at Michelin-starred restaurants.