Some of you might remember the awesome pile of swag Henry and I won at the High Point derby a couple weeks ago. It was a pretty incredible assortment of stuff, but my favorite thing was the embroidered Boy-O-Boy Bridleworks ribbon belt.
I hadn’t really noticed Boy-O-Boy before… I’d seen their name but never taken a very close look at their products. Once I had the belt in my hands and could see it up close, I was so impressed by the quality and construction of the belt that I had to find out more. The pattern was perfectly done, the stitching was impeccable, the leather was thick and sturdy–obviously of excellent quality–and even the hardware was top notch. Details like that are what separate a good product from a great one, and Boy-O-Boy really had my attention with their five-star execution.
I scoured their Etsy store, Instagram, and facebook page before messaging them to ask if they’d be interested in contributing to a Small Business Spotlight feature. The more I looked, the more impressed I was. There are a lot of pretty things in the world, but not all of them are high quality and made to last. Boy-O-Boy’s products definitely are. I haven’t seen anything quite like their line (and certainly not of this quality) anywhere else on the market.
Besides their custom ribbon belts, Boy-O-Boy also offers dog collars, leashes, browbands, keychains and will soon be offering neck straps. All of their products are available in satin or grosgrain ribbons in a huge variety of different colors. They can also have just about anything embroidered on your item, if you have a logo or want your intials, a name, etc. Boy-O-Boy’s items make great horse show prizes (obviously) or would look great in your barn colors. For those of you who don’t necessarily need something in custom colors, they also offer some lower-priced, pre-made options in their Etsy store.
Besides offering a huge array of colors and materials, all of the Boy-O-Boy products are also available in a variety of different patterns.
The owner of Boy-O-Boy, Amanda, was really great to talk to. She quickly found the key to my heart when she spoke of the importance of good construction and high quality materials. Here’s more about her company and her work, in her own words:
When did you start Boy-O-Boy Bridleworks?
I formed the company in the fall of 2014, but I’d been making the ribbon browbands and belts for a few years before that.
How many employees do you have?
Just me! Sometimes my kids help with tagging and packaging, etc., but I’m the designer, maker, product tester (along with my friends, horses, dogs, and some professional riders I sponsor), etc. As I’ve gotten busier, I’ve started outsourcing some aspects of the business that are better left to the professionals, like graphic design, copywriting and web design. It’s been really helpful in freeing up a lot more of my time for making belts, browbands and collars, and for developing and testing some new things.
Where did the idea for the business come from?
I grew up In New York City, but I was one of those little girls who LOVES ponies (who grew into one of those women who LOVES horses). My parents let me take riding lessons, and I never stopped.
Not too long after I graduated from college, my dad died and my mom decided to take on a diplomatic posting in Dublin, Ireland. Whenever I was there visiting, I spent as much time as I could around horses, hunting, galloping polo ponies and riding friends’ horses. I loved the colorful ribbon browbands that I saw on Irish horses and ponies at shows, events, and stable yards, but I couldn’t figure out where to get them. At least, none of the tack shops I went to ever seemed to sell them. It turns out that kids the learn to make them in Pony Club. So, back in the States (now in the Virginia Hunt Country), I learned how too, and started making them for my own jumpers.
Seeing them on my horses at shows, people often told me, “I’ve always loved those ribbon browbands! Where did you get them?” So, I started making them for other people’s horses. One Christmas I made matching belts for friends and over the next few months, I started getting requests from their friends. Eventually stores started calling too.
In the meantime, I learned that I have Lyme disease. I was showing at Upperville one year and suddenly felt, to use Homer Simpson’s term, absolutely craptacular. I had terrible joint pain and flulike symptoms (even my teeth hurt!), and it seemed to be getting worse every day. Eventually I collapsed, lost consciousness and spent the night in the hospital. It took a while to diagnose, but I finally started treatment. I’m a writer and historian by training and was starting to have trouble working because I was having trouble remembering words. So, I took a break and while I was recuperating and went to England to study bridle making with a master saddler. It didn’t bother my joints (much); most of the time you’re sitting down.
When people first asked me to make browbands for them, I just bought some on the Internet and wove the ribbons around them. Old fashioned, flat hunting browbands are surprisingly hard to come by and when I did find them, the quality wasn’t great. A lot of them had cracks on the loops, for example, or the stitching wasn’t very secure. I’m someone who’s always making stuff — crocheting, sewing, needlepointing — and I’d always wanted to learn how to make and repair tack. Funnily enough, Lyme gave me the opportunity.
It also gave me the opportunity to learn about the elements of really good quality tack. We love our horses, but let’s face it, every time you get on a horse (heck, every time you go near one) you’re taking your life into your own hands. Things can go wrong very quickly, even for the best horsemen and the quietest horses. The history of saddlery is in some sense a history of risk management and minimization. As a rider, I knew (or thought I knew) what made my tack durable, beautiful, correct, etc. Learning to make bridles, I came to see it from the other side — what parts of the hide are best used for different items and why (for stirrup leathers or reins, rather than nose bands, say), what makes a hide a good one (or not), stitching that’s appropriate for different applications, what hardware to use and why, which tanneries produce the best leather. It’s given me a real admiration for well made, good quality tack made of top-quality materials — as well as for for the people who make it and for the knowledge and experience they’ve accumulated over the centuries.
I make my own tack (along with my belts, dog collars, etc.) in the same spirit. No one’s likely to die if I sell them a crappy belt, but I use the same high-quality materials and the same techniques for all the items I make. It’s a safety issue where the tack is concerned — and it’s an effort to honor the traditions of craftsmanship and horsemanship with everything I make. In my experience of tack and riding equipment and clothes, etc., I’ve found that, for better or worse, you get what you pay for.
What is your background in horses?
I have a vague memory of seeing showjumping on TV when I was really small. It flipped some sort of switch in me. I knew what I wanted to do more than anything else in the world! My parents were very kind (and generous). They indulged me first with some wonderful ponies that I showed, hunted and evented, and then with a very elegant — and psycho — OTTB, who was my junior hunter. Eventually Lexington Green and I figured each other out, won a bit, and qualified for Devon and indoors. Looking back, though, sometimes I marvel at the fact that I made it to adulthood in one piece.
When My mom lived in Ireland, I bought a great Clover Hill mare, In Clover, and started riding in the jumper divisions. Nowadays, I have a wonderful, athletic, scopey, forgiving Amateur-Owner Jumper, called Dealbreaker or “Zack.” Before Zack, I had my little gelding Boy-O-Boy. Whenever I think of Boy-O-Boy, I think of that old horseman’s saying, “Every rider gets one great horse.” If that’s the case, then, smart, catlike “Bob” was my great horse. He’s is semi-retired now, but he’s still as ferocious a competitor with my daughter in the short-stirrup ring at the age of twenty as he was for me as a jumper at the age of six – or sixteen. We’ll retire him for good in the next year or two. For now, light work keeps him fit, sound and spry. Like I say, we trust our lives to our horse every time we go for a ride. When that horse takes good care of us (and our children after us), I feel an obligation to take good care of him for the rest of his life.
Each of the main Boy-O-Boy Bridleworks weave patterns (like a lot ofhe color combinations) is named for the first horse to wear it. Boy-O-Boy was the first horse I made a ribbon browband for; because he started it all, I named the company after him.
Any interesting notes about yourself, your business or your products that you would like for people to know?
I have a couple of things in the hopper. I just started making neck straps that can be made up in people’s cross-country colors. I’m working on a bridle and a breastplate with the woven ribbons. For a while I’ve been working on bracelets with the woven ribbon patterns, but I haven’t settled on a closure I like yet. I’d also like to do bags at some point.
I can honestly give two very enthusiastic thumbs to Boy-O-Boy Bridleworks; this is definitely a small business worthy of support. As soon as I can figure out which pattern I like best (the indecision is crippling) I’ll be ordering another belt in my XC colors. Because what’s more important than matching? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.