You’ll save a lot of money by buying tack and horse care items wisely and taking care of those things so that they needn’t be replaced right away.
• Before buying something ask yourself:
~ Is it high quality?
~ How many times will I use it?
~ Have I already got one, or something similar I can use instead?
~ Can I borrow one instead of buying, housing, and maintaining this item?
~ Is it worth the time it takes to earn the money to pay for it?
~ Will I still be using this item in 3 months? If you I’ve lived this long without it, do I really need it?
• Buy a quality product. We live in a disposable society but as individuals, we needn’t subscribe to that philosophy, especially when money is an issue. This is especially true regarding durable goods like saddles and other items of riding gear that purchased wisely, have the potential to last a very long time. Examine products carefully before you buy. Shoddy equipment not only falls apart but in the case of items like saddles, tie ropes, and halters, you or your horse can be seriously injured when they fail. Take the higher road and buy the more expensive product and know it will outlast any number of cheap imitations.
• Avoid fads. Although you like the look of the barrel racing saddle with pink, ostrich-embossed seat jockeys and fenders, you might want to sell it or trade it in one day. Fads don’t last forever. When I was a kid, buckstitched saddles were all the rage. Now all-over buckstitching greatly reduces the value of a good used western saddle. Unless you have money to spare and don’t mind using a passé product once its glamour days have passed, stick to the basics and add bling with fashionable accessories.
• Buy used. Consider saddles. A saddle is a major purchase. Unless, however, you have $1500 or more (often much, much more) to spare, you’re unlikely to find a quality leather saddle in your price range. You can, however, buy well-maintained older saddles in the $250 to $1000 price range that were built at a time when better leather, tougher trees, and finer craftsmanship went into saddles as compared with today’s mid-range equipment. They’re a better buy than a shoddy-built new saddle at the same price.
• Fix it. Repair, don’t replace. If you shopped carefully and got good service out of something, don’t assume you have to replace it when it breaks. A good repair shop might be able to restore it to near new condition for less than the cost of a replacement.
• Borrow it. If you need an item for just a short time or you’re not sure you really need it, something like an expensive bit to see if your horse likes it or not, why not borrow someone else’s? When I cleaned out my tack box a few years ago, I found 23 bits I’d accumulated over the years, yet I’d used the same O-ring snaffle, a slotted-dee Kimberwick bit, or short-shanked, mullen mouth curb bit 99% of the time. Some of the other bits were specialty items I’d used no more than 3 or 4 times. What a waste! If you aren’t sure an item is right for you, see if you can borrow one and try it before shelling out money for one of your own.
• Scout out tack swaps and tack consignment sales. I used to buy nearly all of my bridles, saddle blankets, and miscellaneous horse gear at the huge tack consignment sale held in conjunction with the Minnesota Horse Expo, but even small-scale tack swaps can yield treasures at pennies on the dollar. Watch for notices on bulletin boards at tack shops and feed stores, in the classified sections of regional horse magazines, and even in local newspapers.
• Hold your own swap meet. There are no swap meets where you live? Well, organize one! Swap meets are perfect fundraisers for groups like 4-H, Pony Club, and saddle clubs, especially in late winter before show season starts, when horsey folks are looking for something to do. Consigners pay a percentage of their proceeds for consigning goods, usually 5% to 10%, and the hosting group sells chili and sandwiches, chips, and drinks. Everyone wins!
• Shop Craigslist. Craigslist (www.craigslist.org/about/sites) is a series of nation-wide online classifieds where people list items for free. There is bound to be one near you; there are 9 craigslists, for instance, in Minnesota alone. Horses and horse items are usually listed under Farm+Garden.
• Try ebay. Ebay (www.ebay.com) is another favorite place to buy new and used horse equipment, sometimes at bargain prices. Before bidding, be sure to scope out a seller’s shipping and return policies, and also check his Feedback ratings.
• Join Freecycle. Freecycle (www.freecycle.org) is a great place to watch for items like cattle lick tubs to use as water troughs, used food service buckets, old freezers to safely store grain in, and used fencing material, all for absolutely free. To access Freecycle groups, follow instructions at the Freecycle website.
• Or try ReUseIt. ReUseIt (RIN) Network (www.reuseitnetwork.org) is a Freecycle alternative active in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. ReUseIt exists to “get things from people who have them but don’t want them to people who want them but don’t have them.”
• Look for used stuff at tack shops. Some riding apparel and tack stores specialize in consignment sales. Regular tack stores often carry used equipment too, particularly used saddles.
• Yard sales, garage sales, barn sales. Note when horse-owning families hold yard sales; they’re usually good picking grounds for used horse equipment. Yard and rummage sales are also the place to buy used shovels, pitchforks, buckets, storage units like old Army footlockers and tool chests, step stools, zippered plastic bags for blanket storage, and so forth at pennies on the dollar.
• Place your own ads. Many online horse communities host classified ads. To find them do an Internet search for horse tack classified ads.
• If you need a specific item, pin notices on bulletin boards in local tack shops, feed stores, veterinary practices, even non-horsey places like grocery stores and laundromats. Chances are, someone has just that item but maybe never thought of selling it until they read your notice.
• Another good place to post wanted ads is in Pennysaver-type classified tabloids serving your area. We do this all the time, sometimes with surprising results. Case in point: the time a nice girl who outgrew her pony saw our wanted ad and gave her to our 6 year old daughter. Brandy, who was already teenaged when we got her, lived with us another 18 years.
• Buy from discount sellers, especially when items are on sale. When looking for reasonably priced equipment, wormers, or vaccines, turn to any of dozens of discount saddleries and horse supplies sellers that are eager to meet your needs. Even mainline saddleries like Dover Saddlery (www.doversaddlery.com), Schneider Saddlery (www.sstack.com), and State Line Tack (www.statelinetack.com) have sales throughout the year.
• Be sure to factor in shipping prices when buying online, from catalogs, or especially at eBay. Some eBay sellers price goods at eye-catching prices and make up the difference with outlandish shipping costs.
• When buying online, look for clearance sale pages. You may find exactly the item you want. Also watch for discount codes and coupons and sign up for email sales sheets.
• Buy in bulk. Many catalog outlets offer deep discounts when you buy in bulk. Band together with friends to benefit by ordering bulk feed, wormers, and stable supplies.
• Substitute when you can. A person I know from Facebook once said, “If a product says ‘horse’ on the label it will cost 3 times as much as the same product from the grocery store.” She’s right. In most cases you’ll save big money by buying comparable products like shampoos and conditioners designed for humans and they often work better than the horsey brands.
• And substitute everyday items for things from the saddlery store. Like plastic food service buckets for watering buckets, a long-handled toilet brush for scrubbing horse tanks, hangers from Wal-Mart or the dollar store for bridle racks, or a wool cardigan sweater from the used-a-bit shop instead of a fancy little blanket for a newborn foal.
• Or make your own horse supplies. You’ll find hundreds of DIY recipes and projects in my tips book and online.
Then Take Care of Your Stuff
It should go without saying but many people ignore this cardinal rule: take care of your stuff to make it last!
• Organize your gear so you can find an item when you need it. If you can’t find it and can’t borrow it, you’ll waste good money buying another one. Hang strap goods like halters, leads, and bridles neatly on the wall. Buy a tack trunk (military surplus footlockers, large tool boxes, and old steamer trunks make good ones) and organize items within it. Used day packs and book bags make great organizers: one for bits, one for horse boots, and so on.
• Put your stuff on a maintenance schedule and follow it. Clean your boots and leather tack, wash your nylon halters, launder your horse’s clothing, and make repairs as soon as needed. “A stitch in time saves nine” really applies to horse equipment.
• Make your own minor repairs. Most tack shops sell do-it-yourself leather sewing awls. Buy one and learn to use it. Likewise, repair horse blankets, turnouts and the like as soon as you notice a problem. I hand sew patches on my horse clothing. It’s easy. You can do it too.
• Mark your equipment clearly with your name (or your horse’s name) to help misplaced or borrowed items find their way back to you.
– An excerpt from Horse Tips & Tricks; More Than 400 Ways to Care for Your Horse Better, Safer, Faster, Cheaper, by Sue Weaver