It isn’t often that what a competitor at the Devon Horse Show wears has served in a war as well, but Amy Magee’s habit for the side-saddle classes at Devon has a remarkable story.
Magee crafted the habit herself out of U.S. Army blankets her father used while serving in the Army as a tank commander. “I do not come from a horsey family, and my parents were always incredibly supportive of the horses and my riding,” she said. “It was emotional for me to have that moment. My dad was a very influential person for me, and to now have that piece of him with me is just great.”
Magee’s father passed away in 2002, and she stumbled upon his blankets in her mother’s basement a few years ago. “I picked them up, and thought, ‘These are the perfect weight for a habit.’ It’s hard to source the wool fabric—I had bought all my wool before from England. And it was such a beautiful color, that Army drab green. It looks nice on the horses,” Magee said.
She asked her mother if she approved of the conversion to side-saddle habit. “She’s the one who taught me how to sew, and she said that would be fantastic,” Magee said. “I have made quite a few habits, but I did enlist the help of a tailor friend for the jacket because while I have made some coats, it requires a tremendous skill set. There were four blankets in the box, and two of them matched perfectly. I used one was made into the coat and one into the apron.”
The other two blankets will also be re-purposed. Magee is making one into a side-saddle habit for a friend whose father was also an Army tank commander, and the other became a side-saddle apron to match a cubbing jacket of Magee’s.
A little DIY for an outfit is nothing for Magee—she actually also made the bridle and breastplate she used at Devon. Oh, and she bred the horse she rode, too!
Little Lady, the horse she rode to fourth in the side-saddle over fences as well as fifth in the hack and seventh under saddle at Devon, is a 10-year-old Hanoverian mare she also shows in the jumpers, hunts with Kimberton Hunt Club (Pa.), and rides in side-saddle steeplechases. “She’s a great partner and willing. She’s an all-arounder,” Magee said.
Magee bred Little Lady (Landkönig—Mikayla) in 2006 when she and her husband had been going through fertility treatments unsuccessfully. “We were going to throw the towel in because it wasn’t happening,” she said. “So he got me a stud fee for Christmas. He said, ‘If you can’t have kids, have another baby horse.’ ”
Now, Magee has that baby horse, Little Lady, and an 8-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son. “Once you give up trying…” she said with a laugh.
Little Lady has developed into a talented mount, but she had issues as a foal. Magee actually nursed her through a flexural deformity at 4 months old. “She went through a growth spurt, and her long bones grew but her tendons did not,” Magee said. Her veterinarian and farrier recommended the use of Dynasplints, and farrier Laura Florence taught her how to trim Lady’s hooves while referencing her radiographs.
“It was a success, and Lady has gone on to be a sound, happy horse,” Magee said. “I’m still the only one who does her hoof care, and she doesn’t wear shoes, so that I am able to stay on top of her hoof capsule. I attribute this time to our very strong relationship. I was working full-time at the time but spent every minute outside of work sitting with her and keeping her company while she wore her splints.”
Magee keeps her horses on her 13-acre property in Coatesville, Pa., taking care of them herself. She’s a nurse by trade but hasn’t worked in recent years to focus on raising her children. “I keep my license up to date, but I’m not actively practicing,” she said. “My husband travels quite a bit. I tried doing the night shift, but when he’d go on the road, how do you find someone to watch your kids at night?”
She keeps busy, though, between family and her riding and her hobby—making side-saddle habits and tack. “I fall outside the vintage attire size—I’m a little too tall for what the ladies used to wear. So I’ve always struggled with finding habits,” she said.
So, she started making her own. And now she helps out other side-saddle riders, creating and altering habits for them.
When the blingy browband craze hit 20 years ago is when Magee got interested in putting a needle to work in her horse life. “I am a nurse by trade, so I know how to do suture work, so I started by suturing these rhinestones onto browbands. It transitioned into making belts and then making a breastplate,” she said.
“In side-saddle, it’s difficult to find correct tack here in the United States because it’s such a small sub-set. So I started making balance straps for the saddle and then tri-fold girths. I had two local saddle ladies, Stephanie Dahne and Ann McGrail, who have both taught me about leatherwork. They’ve taught me more intricate stitching. I have a real love for sewing, and I had the basic skills, but the leatherwork was easy once they taught me the techniques. It became second nature. I have a shop set up in the basement, and I’ve been collecting tools over the last six years.”
Magee’s skills have expanded to repairing side-saddles, as well. The saddle she rode in at Devon was one she bought in February from an antiques auction in unrideable condition.
There is a real lack of saddlers willing or able to work on side-saddles, so her forays into saddle repair were born of necessity. “While I’m not trying to be the go-to person, I at least want to be able to help people out,” she said. “A lot of professional saddlers don’t necessarily want to work on side-saddles because it takes probably three times as long to work on these vintage saddles. The newer tack is younger and easier. My saddle is 105 years old—I don’t really blame them for not wanting to work on it. But that puts it back to us to find and fix the equipment. No one has made a modern equivalent to the vintage side-saddles.”
She has also found a Canadian manufacturers to produce her line of flat, traditional bridles and breastplates for side-saddle riders. “My bridle meets the traditional standards, but has a monocrown, so it has some modern influence,” she said.
Magee caught the side-saddle bug early, as she learned how to ride with Rae Guthrie, who dabbled in side-saddle. “I thought it was the most elegant thing in the world. I was in college and on vacation and came across a saddle in a shop, and it was cheap, so I bought it. That was in 1994, and I showed at Devon side-saddle for the first time in 1996,” Magee said.
“Since then, I’ve introduced all of my horses to side-saddle. In 2001, I had a horrific accident [riding astride] with a horse that flipped over on top of me. I had a broken back, broken pelvis, broken hip. I destroyed my SI joint on the left. Lo and behold, because of the accident, side-saddle riding is more comfortable for me.”
Magee rides astride, too. She evented up to the one-star three-day level with Aaspen’s Black Diamond, a horse she bred from her first side-saddle mare, Brenda La Bamba. She also evented that horse aside, taking fourth in the training division of the 2005 American Eventing Championships with him. “I got his mother, who was the first horse I rode side-saddle at Devon, when I was in eighth grade,” Magee said. “Everyone told me she was such a nice mare and that I should breed her. So I did, but it was a total luck thing. I bred her to Absolut. I got a fantastic horse, but I never bred her again.”