Stooping High: Horse Leap Equestrian Tack Shop
By Don Rosendale
When it comes to riding hounds—a.k.a. foxhunting—there are more rules about the proper outfit than psalms in the Bible, and they are strictly enforced. An NFL player who doesn’t have his jersey tucked in may get hit with a fine, but showing up at the hunt meet wearing the wrong jacket or a garish helmet will result in the Master of Foxhounds sending a shamefaced-rider home. There are rules about the color of the cuff on a riding boot, the contents of a sandwich in a lady’s lunch box that’s clipped to her saddle, how many buttons on a coat. And in recent years, it’s become all the more challenging because Knoud’s, the famous shop on Madison Avenue in New York City that could be relied on to make sure you had the correct kit, has closed its doors.
And that is where Barbara Wadsworth and her tiny shop, Horse Leap, in Amenia come in. Ever wonder where designers for Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger get some of their inspiration for tweedy country clothes? Just hang around Wadsworth’s shop on a weekend and you’ll get a clue. “You’d be surprised how concerned people are that they are properly turned out for the ‘meet,’” Wadsworth discloses. To do so, they come to Horse Leap knowing that 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 runs the only shop in the Northeast selling authentic equestrian gear, either new or “slightly broken in.” (Note to animal lovers: Nowadays, fox-hunting is not so much about chasing the wily fox—on the occasion one can be found—but rather in exhibiting horsemanship galloping cross country, over stone walls and fallen logs. When the fox “goes to ground”—that is, he is in some culvert or cub hole where the hounds can’t get him—he’s “won” and the pursuers set him free.)
Many well-to-do equestrians in horsey country eventually get too creaky to clamber up on a horse, and they didn’t get to be rich by throwing things away. Riding britches, tweed jackets with suede patches on the sleeves, top hats, jodhpurs, slightly tattered Barbour jackets, dinner plates with hounds chasing foxes…. they all wind up on consignment with Wadsworth. After all, little Suzie in her jodhpurs eventually outgrows that $750 Melton jacket, and daddy’s $1,500 Saville Row-sewn scarlet jacket (called “pink”) is of no more use. It’s simply not the kind of stuff you put in a lawn sale, so at that point Wadsworth steps in, discretely buying the used but still perfectly wearable hunting clothes. And if it’s slightly worn, that’s no problem. “I’ve had people ask me to ‘rough up’ garments so they don’t look shiny new.”
On a Saturday morning, she shows us around the shop. There are five sets of men’s “pink” hunt clothes and a little girl’s handmade black Melton coat at least a decade old but still worth the $365 price tag and sold within minutes of landing on the rack. “People who love riding hounds are also crazy about plates, ashtrays, and glasses with fox-hunting scenes,” Wadsworth says, picking up a paperweight showing horse and rider ($50). Another special item is a pair of hand-painted horse bookends, signed and dated 1937 ($350). One of her favorite pastimes, she admits, is collecting decorated Hazel Atlas glassware, painted with scenes of mounted horsemen chasing foxhounds chasing the fox. “It’s hard to find a full set,” she says, “so I just buy a few pieces at a time until I can assemble a full set. Another popular item in Wadsworth’s “consignment” section are Hermes scarves, made by the Italian saddle maker and typically showing saddles, bit, or horses. On Madison Avenue, these are $450. In Horse Leap, $150 to $250.
Of course, there is not only a strict dress code for when mounted but also for the white tie “hunt ball” (of which there are several in the Hudson Valley). Wadsworth also has the correct kit for that, as well as the Ralph Lauren-look for the “hunt breakfast” that follows the ride.
A 1984 graduate of the equestrian program at Mount Holyoke College, Wadsworth came to Amenia to train horses and teach riding. But she eventually tired of that because “it’s awfully cold standing around a riding ring in filthy weather.” She opened Horse Leap six years ago, and says she chose a name “that would stand out on the Internet.” While most of Wadsworth’s customers may be from the Millbrook, Golden’s Bridge, and Old Chatham fox hunts, stop in on a Saturday morning and you’ll likely find the design staffs of the aforementioned Seventh Avenue designers. Now you know how they turn out those authentic tweed hacking jackets.
Two hundred bucks, slightly worn, at Horse Leap today. $750 at Saks Fifth Avenue next year.
Horse Leap, LLC.
3314 Route 343
Amenia, New York 12501
Tuesday - Closed