It was a drizzly morning in New York City when I found my way to the West Village to meet Amelia Diamond, head of creative at Man Repeller, a digital media brand making waves with its openness and humour when it comes to discussing everything from shoes to gender equality. I had been reading Amelia’s articles for years, enjoying her down-to-earth observations and sly jokes. Gradually, after seeing photos of her Ariat cowboy boots (which she wore almost every day at Paris Fashion Week), and C.S. Simko belts, I came to the realization that Amelia was, in fact, a rider.
After meeting up, we decided to take a chance on the small gap in the rain to take some photos. The sidewalks were lined with tulips and fringed by old brick townhouses – oddly serene and devoid of cars. The topic, unsurprisingly, turned to horses almost immediately. For Amelia, a love for the sport and the culture that surrounds it began at eight years old, on school ponies at “baby C-rated hunter/jumper shows” while she split her time between San Francisco and New Jersey. She rode mostly out of Excalibur Stables in Menlo Park, CA, under Tracy Weisert.
After taking a break from riding in college, and moving to NYC for work, Amelia serendipitously ended up riding with the trainer who started Excalibur Stables, Robert McNeel. Though work keeps her from competing and riding regularly, she still hacks horses for him, “It’s him doing me the favour,” she insists.
By this time, we had ducked into a cafe, where Amelia insisted on paying for my scone (with the same assertiveness she used when she gave me her umbrella, later). After settling onto stools facing the sidewalk traffic outside, and a quick conversational detour into journalist-land (“I get so nervous recording interviews on phones – what if they get deleted?”), the subject veered back to, you guessed it, riding.
Even living in the middle of Manhattan, she still manages to sneak out to ride – and she’s definitely not the only one. True to the sentiment of any “lifer” equestrian, getting creative with carpooling and bringing friends along helps to get your horse fix. And then there’s always incorporating riding clothes into an everyday wardrobe for the city.
“It’s probably more that I’m integrating street clothes into equestrian clothes,” she states. “I like to feel really put together – tied together and finished-looking. Even with tack, I just love that there’s a place for everything – a keeper or a buckle for every piece of leather. That you’re sort of dressed up and arriving for whatever the occasion is.”
Her traditionalist taste translates into various facets of her life, from her work to how she dresses for the barn: “Like my grandma.” While she described her preference for high waisted Tailored Sportsmans, I recalled an article she wrote years ago in which she teased herself for her love of argyle and/or cable-knit sweaters. While equestrian style is touted as a timeless classic, it can verge on being too preppy or antiquated for modern tastes. Despite this, fashion magazines often feature the pouffy jodhpurs of a bygone era in their editorials.
“I think that the fashion industry has a tendency to romanticize and exaggerate genres as a whole, whether that’s punk music or ballet,” she says, “There’s something nice about the way that they look back fondly on the National Velvet style breeches. It’s nice that even though no one’s wearing them, it’s being explored somewhere.”
And how did she think a magazine like Vogue might react to modern innovations in riding apparel, with tight stretchy show jackets and helmets that, in her words, “look like aliens”?
“It’s such a weird sport,” she replied “So many people don’t take it seriously. And then fashion is often not taken seriously, it’s looked at as frivolous, or completely superficial. Everyone’s doing the hyper athletic look in fashion now – look at athleisure. Maybe the new wave of riding clothes would be less discernable as equestrian to a fashion magazine than the traditional garb. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.”
I think in some ways if equestrian gear was to get more athletic-looking, it would be interesting to see the response. It may be more respected as a sport.
However, Amelia stressed the importance of appreciating innovation. “If you are resistant to the inevitable push for innovation forward in equestrian fashion, that seems completely unproductive. Being open to innovation is always good – doing your research and reading about it. If I’m vehemently opposed to something, I ask myself why is this happening?” While our discussion stayed focussed mostly on the apparel and style end of the industry, her points about finding a balance of honouring tradition and embracing modernity could be translated into training and other aspects of the sport.
“Maybe the increasingly-athletic aesthetic of equestrian gear will help the outside world understand that it is a serious sport.” Amelia uses the popular sun shirts, with mesh underarm as an example, which she wears to the gym.
“Am I rambling? I’m totally rambling. Sorry. I’m not giving you very good sound bytes, am I,” she apologized. I laughed. Only a writer would critique their own speech patterns while being interviewed. “Rambling is good,” I replied, “That’s why we’re here.”
As far as getting more fans and participants in the sport, she made a valid point about the fact that most people never even get an opportunity to touch a horse – the main ingredient when it comes to falling in love with them, whether they become a top rider or an enthusiast. “I think that the hippotherapy programs in New York City are really interesting because they’re showing the horse world in a completely different way. You don’t have to ride, but you can volunteer for a good cause and still be around horses.” Amelia enthused.
“Horses are… A mythical beast, they are unicorns! They are freaky, huge, volatile wild animals essentially, and so I think there’s something romantic and otherworldly about them which is why people catch the bug that they do,” she paused “… I’m going to come off as a total nut, aren’t I?”
I smiled, “It’s okay, all horse people are nuts. They’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.”