Living in the boonies as we do, we don't have the luxury of a good tack store in town. Online shopping and local tack swaps are our only options when we need to buy horse supplies. It can be a hassle to buy online because you have to carefully try items on your horse and ship back anything that doesn't fit, but you can also find some great deals online. Keep an eye out for free-shipping offers and sales on the things you need, and search eBay for gently used items. Overall, my favorite online store is Smartpak because they have good sales and top-notch customer service. They really go out of their way to make sure you're a happy customer.
Here are a few items that I consider essentials and that pass the test in quality and value:
1. Mio fleece cooler - This cooler is bare-bones, affordable, but it gets the job done. Ideal for throwing on your horse on cold days when they're sweaty after a ride. It helps their body cool down at a slower, safer rate and wicks moisture away so they dry off faster. Can also be used for keeping them clean and warm in their stall, and is machine washable. It is not quite hardy enough to layer under turnout blankets for added warmer (the fleece is relatively thin, so it tears under stress), so if you want a cooler for that purpose it's better to go with a more expensive double-weight cooler that can take a little more abuse (like this one).
2. A small, battery-operated clipper - A great tool for horses that are skittish about being clipped because there's no cord to contend with and they don't vibrate as hard as the big plug-in clippers. It's essential for trimming bridle paths, legs, ears and faces before horse shows. This one is quiet and does a nice job.
3. A really good pair of muck boots - Like these, or these, or if you want to be able to ride in them and need insulation against cold, these. Nothing is worse then getting a leak in your boot when there's still a solid month of mud season ahead of you...well, actually, there is something worse: getting your boot sucked off by deep mud when you're in the middle of a pasture trying to catch a horse and–because you were walking fast–your momentum carries you forward, without your boot, and you soak your sock in poopy-swamp-water and then hop on one leg in a circle trying not to fall while you attempt to free your boot from the muck.......yes, this happened to me MANY times before I went and bought a good pair of well-fitting, durable boots!
4. Riding gloves - My trainer used to harp on me to wear gloves when I rode, and I never understood why until I finally got a pair that I liked. Good gloves help you grip the reins and actually increase your feel of the horse's mouth. They also protect your hands from rope-burn when lunging your horse. Gloves are required at horse shows, so you should get used to wearing them while schooling.
I use Heritage Performance Gloves because they work, fit and look great, and they have a little tag on them where you can write your name. Almost all gloves look the same, so this is a great way to prevent mixing your pair up with someone else's.
Until next time, happy shopping and happy riding! :)