Use custom-made tack and equipment year-round, not just on special occasions.
I’ve heard the saying “you get what you pay for” from a young age. Basically, it means that when something doesn’t cost much, it’s often not of very high quality. And if you spend the right amount of money, you will get something that is a better product.
I know it can’t always be the case. Sometimes we just flat luck out and get a good deal. For example, I’ve paid very little for some wonderful horses. They didn’t technically cost me a dime out of pocket, but the mares and geldings that had “little to no value” taught me a lot, took me many places and created lessons and memories in me that made me a better rider and teacher for the next horse.
And on the flip side of that, sometimes I’m certain I get overcharged. I won’t mention names, but there’s been more than a time or two where I pay the financial equivalent of (what feels like) a pair of small diamond earrings for a latte and a croissant that were subpar quality.
But getting back to the idea of getting what we pay for, I feel that the statement generally rings true in the horse world when it comes to custom items, whether it’s a set of rawhide reins or leather boots.
Certainly, I can go out and buy a very decent saddle from a mass-maker. There is nothing wrong with their products, and a couple of the rigs I own came from a factory line. But when I seek out a specific maker, get put on a waiting list, and have to handpick exactly what I want my saddle to be, inside and out, it’s generally going to hold more value. Yes, it will cost me more money. But my money is being spent on a feel and a vision that I can’t easily pick out in a tack store. It’s supporting someone with a passion who is pursuing an honest way to make a living (provided I choose a reputable artist). And in turn, I get a guaranteed, long-lasting product that fits me, my horses and my very particular taste.
And, sure enough, “custom-made” doesn’t just stop at saddles. I’ve found a bootmaker who makes designing my footwear fun – and also recognizes the difference in my two feet (which is almost a half a size!) I’ve got a few pairs of leggin’s that were built to fit me the way I want, and include some fun little details too. And my spurs will tell a story if you look at them closely enough.
It’s an exciting experience, to create your own gear. The money spent when having something built right once would often be spent over time anyway, on three different items that didn’t exactly fit what I want. When I have something built just for me, I enjoy establishing relationships with the artists and makers who often share the same interests as I do. And it’s a logical approach to pay more for higher quality stuff, as Luke and I tend to log a lot of hours on and in our trappings.
Often we have a funny perception on having custom-made, high-end gear. Because it is usually more expensive than the manufactured versions, we’re inclined to save our best stuff for special occasions or show situations. However, I was once told by a hatmaker that a custom made 100x is a much better investment for daily wear than a lower quality felt. He told me to save my store-bought 20x as my “good hat”, because it will go through a lot less abuse. And he was right! My 100x hats have held up much better and look great longer than the ones I buy for less money. Plus, the fit is tailored and specified just for my head, which means comfort all day.
I’m not saying to bypass mass-produced tack and Western wear. There are plenty of great options in stores that will get the job done for years. But when you want something really special, that will hold its value better, last a long time, and reflect a style and personality that is unique to you, consider having someone make you what you really want.
These saddlemakers, leathermen, braiders, craftsmen and artists of the Western world deserve a nod. They have poured hours of dedication and education into their crafts. The intricacies and details that make their goods special are done specifically and uniquely for each customer. They are creating something to help both you and your horse get a job done successfully. Their product isn’t only useful—it’s often a work of art.
And shoot, I’d rather spend my money on that than a mediocre coffee any day.