BY JESS CLAWSON
Quality and care have always been priorities for Jill Apfelbaum, proprietor of the stylish and classic Malvern Saddlery located in Malvern, Pennsylvania.
As a young girl, Apfelbaum was obsessed with horses and determined to find a way to have them in her life. She hitched rides with friends and neighbors who went for riding lessons and made herself available to do anything and everything in exchange for the opportunity to ride. “I was very lucky to get support and encouragement from a few trainers who had little to gain save some free tack cleaning, and my passion for horses grew,” she said.
Apfelbaum took advantage of every clinic and educational opportunity there was, earning the respect of nearby professionals as well as the opportunity to do some catch riding on young horses. When she went to college, she managed a show barn while pursuing her other passion: fine arts.
A freak riding accident forced Apfelbaum to walk away from her riding career for many years, but didn’t diminish her love of horses or riding. “It gave me time to reflect, and time to spend at the USET Center in Gladstone,” she said. “At that time, the center housed the top horses that competed for the USA and the team riders. It was open to anyone to audit the daily training sessions with Jack LeGoff and Bert DeNementhy.”
Apfelbaum watched all of this with a keen eye. “I wish there was the same opportunity for young riders now who want to avail themselves of the chance to learn from their best regardless of financial ability,” she said. “I would so like to find a way to create that in the industry again. Maybe a retirement project!”
Her fine arts background took priority in her life while her body recovered from the fall, and Apfelbaum found herself in the fashion industry. She spent the next 22 years of her life working as a buyer for European fashion brands and director of personal shopping service for a well known high end fashion store. She continued to ride as she could, quietly bringing along a few nice young horses with no need for a spotlight.
Luck struck for Apfelbaum in the 1970s when a gentleman saw her working with a jumper prospect that he thought was better suited to grand prix dressage. “I had no idea who he was or why he was entitled to that opinion. All I can say is, for some reason, with no background or working knowledge of the discipline I submitted to the notion.”
Apfelbaum discovered before long that the man was Fritz Stecken, German dressage gold medalist. “This was the most transformative and magical journey in my riding history,” she said. “I was at the right place at the right time and once again a trainer who had little to gain recognized the hunger to learn and took me under his wing.” Apfelbaum has come to value the gift of a guide in the sport.
After her two-plus decades in the fashion industry, she was ready to walk away and found that the equestrian world had become more sophisticated and global. “I was not seeing any tack shops stepping up to the plate when it came to embracing that culture,” she said. “There were certainly some very impressive leaders in the industry, but there was no one bridged the rider, horse, and lifestyle categories under one roof for a total experience.”
Her background in fashion and in horses put her in the perfect position to found Malvern Saddlery as a style brand in the equestrian industry. “I opened in the center of the darling town of Malvern, Pennsylvania, in 1992,” she recalled.
Malvern is nestled into Chester County horse country. “We have past and present Olympians from all disciplines within a 30 mile radius, which makes it very exciting for us,” she said. “I love the diversity and the interaction, and I value the great feedback so we can develop products to fill our clients’ needs.”
Apfelbaum selected the tagline “The Difference is Quality” and hopes to convey that in the store’s brand as well as in the brands they represent. “I am and have always been extremely careful about my vendor and product selections,” she said. “Even if it is a simple hoof pick, it will be the most well designed, ergonomic, strongest instrument that will last for years.”
“As with the fashion industry, there have been many changes in options for riders in their competition clothing,” she said, “and, like in fashion, most of it is initiated in Europe. We spend a good bit of time working very closely with that market, and I have been involved with several brands as a consultant for the specific needs of the market in the USA.” Apfelbaum is proud to have been able to advise in the tailoring and modification of some of the styles to fit the state side competition rings.
She is also proud of her staff, who are a group of knowledgeable, service-oriented professionals. “It keeps us very busy–the one-on-one relationship we have with our customers drives us seven days a week.”
For those who can’t visit the store in person, they offer their full range of products online. “We’re always available to talk them through their purchases to be sure they are getting what they need,” she said.
The Devon Horse Show is particularly special to Apfelbaum and Malvern Saddlery. “I’ve been part of Devon as a competitor and a vendor for over 40 years now. It’s a special venue with lots of great memories and history,” she said. “We enjoy coming and having the opportunity to share some of what we do in Malvern to the extended horse family we see annually at this great show.”
You can find Malvern Saddlery at the Devon Horse Show, online at https://malvernsaddlery.com, or located at 1 E. King Street, Malvern, PA 19355.
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About the Author: Jess is a professional historian and educator who lives in northwestern Virginia. They completed their undergraduate degree in English at William & Mary, and did their masters and doctoral work at the University of Florida. Jess is an event rider with a passion for thoroughbreds, and has extensive experience in community organizing around queer identities, racial marginalization, and labor.
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