I learned the power of costume at an early age. Although I played the role of tomboy to keep up with my brothers, I also loved to rummage in my mother’s jewelry box and drape myself in fake pearls and shiny brooches. When family portrait time rolled around every Thanksgiving, I wore smocked dresses from London, hand-me-downs from my worldly New York cousins.
As I grew older, I became ever more fascinated by clothes, jewelry, makeup, and hairstyles. I plucked my eyebrows until they were nearly indiscernible and sprayed Sun-In on my hair, turning it brassy orange. This was the ’70s, mind you.
I took summer courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology, flirting with the idea of a career in fashion. I danced at Studio 54 a few times, bumping elbows with Sylvester Stallone and Liza Minelli. I thought I was pretty cool and tried to dress the part.
Then I settled down: I got married and had a son. I soon discovered that I could channel my penchant for costumery into my son, Gabe, who was too young to argue (that would come later).
I even managed to play costumer to my then-husband, Rey. He uncomplainingly wore a feather-patterned shirt and red suspenders to match pint-size versions I’d bought for Gabe.
I also made Rey and Gabe a pair of matching shorts out of vegetable-patterned fabric. Rey quietly put them aside after being told one time too many, “Nice cucumber.” Then our marriage ended; Gabe decided he’d rather wear jeans and faded T-shirts; and I became less willing to try the latest fashion trends on myself. No more harem pants, humongous shoulder pads, crimson lipstick, or spiral perms. Those days were over.
Fifteen years later, I bought a beautiful gray horse named Mystic. A horse I could call my own. A horse I could adorn.
It started with a saddle. Not just any saddle: a custom-fitted, handmade County Perfection. It cost the equivalent of a semester’s tuition (I was in graduate school at UNCG at the time). Thanks to an unexpected tuition reimbursement and a huge helping hand from my parents, I was able to purchase this extraordinary saddle.
Then came the saddle pads, one by one, accruing like a drift of flower petals. Black (my perennial favorite), gray, red, green. Piped, adorned with fleur-de-lis, contoured, quilted.
Last spring I learned about “rhythm beads“—horse necklaces that create a rhythmic jingling sound, handy for keeping time when trotting, and just plain pretty. I bought a set, then designed my own, using beads left over from craft projects and bits of old jewelry.
My latest passion is fancying up Mystic’s rope halter. I like to order horsehair tassels online, then attach them to the halter with a sturdy key ring. I throw in something dangly, like a few links from an old necklace or those giant ’80s earrings that seemed so normal at the time.
I’ve also discovered Handcrafted Jewels, where James and Kate Cooler get all their rope gear. You can create a customized halter, choosing from a huge range of rope colors, braided elements, knots, tassels, and even studs. The halter below with the turquoise and black noseband is my first custom order from Handcrafted Jewels. I’m already plotting my next one.
So far Mystic has put up with my fashion choices for him with good humor. I have promised him that I will never use Sun-In on him, nor will I pluck his eye hairs. He is entirely perfect the way he is—most beautiful, really, unadorned and running in the pasture—but I can’t help looking for the equine equivalent of my mother’s jewelry box, where I discovered so much joy.