Amanda Smith Hood
Owner, founder and designer of Boy-O-Boy Bridleworks
How long have you been part of the horse world? How did you get started?
I grew up in New York City, but was always totally horse-crazy 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. Even now, one of my all-time happiest memories is of Christmas when I was about 5—I couldn’t believe my eyes when a horse van pulled up and out came my very own pony! Macaroni had belonged to my cousins until they outgrew him a few years before. 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. After I outgrew Macaroni, I showed in the pony hunters and also did some foxhunting and eventing in Upstate New York.
I didn’t ride much when I was in college, but not long after I graduated, my dad died and my mother was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, where I started riding again. I foxhunted a lot, rode friends’ horses and helped gallop the polo ponies who lived down the road every chance I got. After my mother gave me a great Irish mare, In Clover, I really fell in love with show jumping and never looked back.
What part do you play in the horse world and how did you get there?
I own Boy-O-Boy, a small equestrian strap goods company inspired by traditional ribbon browbands. I make all the items—browbands, belts, dog collars and leashes—myself, by hand. The company is named after my retired jumper, Boy-O-Boy, who lives in Middleburg, Virginia, so I get to visit him all the time.
I loved the colorful ribbon browbands I saw on horses and ponies when my mom and I lived in Ireland, but I never seemed to be able to find them in tack shops—typically, Irish kids learn to make them in Pony Club. When I came back to the U.S., I started making them for my own jumpers, starting with Boy-O-Boy. People used to see me on Boy-O-Boy at shows and ask where I got them, so I started offering to make them for their horses. One Christmas I made matching belts for friends and then 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 from writing 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 details like how to pick out the best hides and hardware and stitching. 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. Funnily enough, Lyme gave me the chance to get out and do it.
What’s your favorite thing about what you do?
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, 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 from medieval knights wearing the colors of their liege lord to modern racing silks, eventers’ cross-country colors and barn, hunt and polo team colors. 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 are your goals for the future?
I’d like to branch out of the horse world and launch Boy-O-Boy among non-riders.
What’s the best thing about your life?
I’m very lucky to have a wonderful family—a great husband, two beautiful children, and a sister I get to ride with—along with two hilarious bull terriers and, of course, my beloved horses. I also ride in Upperville, Virginia, and show my Dutch Warmbloods, Dealbreaker, a.k.a. Zack, and Vavoom, who goes by Timmy, in the Amateur Owner Jumpers.
Best kept secret about you?
I’m a Harvard-trained historian who’s published a couple of books about American history.
Photos by Shawna Simmons Whitty, unless noted otherwise