There is a certain odor in tack shops on Saturdays.
Lingering among the luscious scent of new leather and sun shirts fresh off the rack is the unmistakable perfume of anxious parent. Moms, dads, grandmas, and grandpas white knuckle their wallets—caught between financial prudence and trying not to squash the dreams of the horse crazy kid straining into a new pair of tall boots.
Of course, this is not the only fragrance that shows up on Saturday.
There is also one that most of us remember from middle school; the scent of teenage insecurity and deodorant that may or may not be holding the ode de puberty hormones at bay. This smell has a different quality than the parent with the wallet. It is one of peer pressure and angst, rolling in waves off young people convinced that if they have that one “right” brand of helmet or breeches, they will fit in with the other barn rats.
The two smells mixed together spread like a contagion to anyone else nearby.
I avoid tack shops on Saturday if I can help it. But I am far from being anxiety free when I do go. There is a small part of me that is still the little kid who felt shabby next to the drill team girls, and another part the 20-year-old girl who took jumping lessons in cowboy boots and half chaps because it is all I had.
Now I am a grown up with at least a little bit of my own money. But I still only own a couple pairs of riding pants at a time, and I wait until they split from wear before I buy new ones. I grumpily pay full price if I need something I did not plan for or something unexpectedly breaks. “At least check clearance rack first,” one of my friend teases me as I walk to the register, huffing like a toddler who needs a snack.
Tack shops do not have to be the sink hole of shame and cash, however. Most of the time, they are one of my favorite places to haunt. The staff are usually equestrians themselves and often share my same dark sense of humor. Their knowledge of gear, and their ability to mitigate crisis is a marvel not be taken for granted.
I love the stacks of saddle pads, the walls of winter blankets, and the tiny shelves stuffed to the top with show shirts and breeches. I would argue that you have not lived as a horse person until you try out a new saddle on one of the barrels they have in the tack section.
As a broke horse girl, I have learned that how much I spend on equipment is something I have more control over than things like feed, the farrier, or the vet—and a bit of perspective goes a long way.
The first piece of advice I really took to heart was from a breeder friend who taught me that you do not always need the newest shiniest thing. Last year’s model often works fine, and the mark of a true equestrian is that they have an older saddle sitting in a place of honor that they call, “Old Trusty.”
I have also found that both the credit card debt and the panic stay away if I walk into the shop with a list and a budget. I ask myself, “What do I absolutely need new?” “What can I repurpose or buy used?” “What can I spend a little extra on now so that I don’t have to buy another one for a long time?”
For example, I always buy girths new, and I wear my boots and half chaps until the seams tear and I can feel the gravel under the soles, so those I typically buy new too. My head stall and my saddle though, I bought from a friend who sells used tack as her side hustle. Another friend repurposes ladies blazers she finds at the thrift store into kids show coats, rather than throwing money at something they could only wear for one season.
The true magic of the tack shop, for me, is when the visit is for a special treat. I have found that if I research, plan for, and save for the exact thing I have my eye on, the experience of buying it transforms from one of sticker shock to one of joy.