We asked five of the sharpest shoppers their tips to stretching their tack budget.
Donna has been in the tack industries most of her life. Here are her extra nuggets of wisdom:
"Tack sales are a terrific way of purchasing used items and most people want to get rid of the items they bring and not have to pack them up and take them home. At the end of the day, you can pick up some great buys from people just wanting to reduce the item and get it gone," says Donna.
Web sites like Tacktrader.com, eBay, and Craigslist are good options for a bargain, but you have to be careful. "Know what you're looking at before you spend the money, as you may not be buying an item that is worth the money they're asking. However, you can find some great deals with those sites," she adds.
[READ: Bargain Tack Sites]
Some of Donna's best buys have been local finds. "I've spent hours scouting out garage sales that list horse tack."
Lastly, if you're a do-it-yourself type person, consider making some tack items. "I've learned ways of making a lot of my own tack items, such as draw reins and many miscellaneous items."
As a longtime non-pro rider, Ruth has found a couple of ways to save some extra cash.
"Last year, I was at a show that had a lot of vendors, and I fell in love with a bit and some saddle blankets. My trainer had her eye on a new saddle and a bit, and another friend wanted a blanket and a headstall. We were able to get a huge discount when all three of us purchased at the same time," says Ruth. "Overall, we save hundreds of dollars off the retail price."
Also, Ruth suggests seeing if "display" items are for sale. "I got a big discount on a saddle blanket because it had been on display and was dusty."
As a well-known Paint trainer, Karen has a few extra tips for saving money--and getting your money's worth.
"Carefully examine any used tack. Look under the saddle skirts to see if the leather is clean. If the previous owner has taken the time to really clean their saddle, it's a good sign that they've taken good care of it the entire time they've owned it, and that it's in decent condition."
When it comes to show clothes, invest in a tailor or seamstress. "If there's a big circuit with used-apparel vendors in your vicinity, toss a couple of extra dollars to your seamstress to go to the show to examine any consignment purchases you're considering. She can evaluate the quality of fabric and let you know if it's a good investment, let alone if it'll make it through the first dry cleaning," says Karen.
"Your tailor doesn't have to know a thing about horses or riding. He or she has to know clothes and fit. I recommend seamstresses who alter wedding or prom dresses, to ensure that they're familiar with intricate beading and embellishment and difficult fabrics often used for show clothing," she adds.
Karen also recommends not getting caught up in the details--like whether your bridles and saddles match--or in the trends. "Trends come and go. Traditional, well-made tack is always in style and is always a sound investment."
Well-made tack is key. "A lot of entry-level riders can't see past the shine. They want a shiny headstall with shiny "silver," but they? don't have the cash to make the purchase--so they get a knockoff online. The truth is, the leather on a knockoff bridle is treated to be "shiny" and never breaks in--and might break altogether. The "silver" on those bridles isn't--it's going to tarnish and dull and look terrible in a short time. Buy high-quality items with basic style, because they leave a lasting positive impression, even without the bling."
Having to outfit 60 horses for a guest ranch, Terry also had some extra insights.
If you're in a situation like he is and have to accommodate many different types of riders, consider saddle size. "You can put a small person or a bigger person in a 16- or 17-inch saddle, but you can only put a tiny person in a 14-in saddle," he says.
Another way Terry helps save Vista Verde money (and you can, too) is by doing many of the repairs in-house. To start, try taking apart an older, unusable saddle. Practice making repairs on it until you feel comfortable enough to repair your other saddles.
Terry also encourages deal seekers to know what a saddle looks and feels like when it's broken. "I recently watched people buy saddles with broken trees and/or horns, and that's a bad deal." To avoid that, try taking a tack-savvy friend with you to an auction.
Terry's last bit of advice is to watch out for divorces--whether it's a human-human divorce or a human-horse divorce.
"I feel a twang of guilt capitalizing on those situations, but they're going to sell it to somebody, so you may as well buy it," he says.