When I was a teenager, I discovered that my local thrift shop sold polo shirts in the men’s department for $3 each. For less than the retail cost of one, I got 10 and was ready for countless clinics and schooling shows. From that day forward, I was hooked on searching second-hand stores for items to stock my trailer and have found certain key items are commonly sold at thrift stores.
Follow my lead and you will save money on some useful products, help the environment by recycling gently used items and support a charity if you shop at a store with a cause.
Step One: Evaluate. The best way to assess what you do and don’t have and how to organize it all is to pick a sunny day and empty out everything in your trailer’s tack room or vehicle’s trunk—wherever you store your horse-show items. Group related items into the containers you have, keeping in mind what needs to be easily transportable. Make a list of the containers and items you still need and head to the thrift store before you shop retail. The following are likely items on your list that are commonly found at second-hand stores:
Plastic Containers: For the most rugged containers, go with the countless plastic bins for sale. Not only are they a great way to organize supplies by use (tack cleaners in one bin, medical products in another), but you can also store items with the peace of mind that the bins will contain any spills.
If you are lucky enough to find one (or more) plastic dressers with drawers, I encourage you to buy them. I have no less than three in my trailer’s dressing room at any time. They are easy to wipe out if something spills, and the separate drawers keep things organized in an easy-to-carry container.
One dresser is for my personal use and it still stores my countless thrift-store polo shirts along with things like spare breeches and shorts. I also use it to keep those items most people prefer to buy new (spare socks, gloves, hair spray, breeches, etc.). The second dresser is for the horses. It holds items like spare reins, bits, braiding supplies, trimmers, treats and anything else that requires a backup. The last dresser holds anything you might want between rides: things like a few hand towels for wiping off your face, bug spray, sunscreen, plates and cutlery for eating lunch and snack bars that get put in before each show.
Last, but not least, are the containers that are slightly chipped or missing a top. From the smallest size that can keep curb chains separated in your trunk to the largest for holding horse blankets in all of their shavings-covered glory, they are a great addition to any trailer. They are usually under $1 and are great for horsekeeping, where no one will notice that they are a little worse for wear.
Baskets: Most thrift shops have entire basket departments, which give you storage options that are more ventilated and attractive. Even the largest second-hand baskets are under $10, so you can keep your show area looking high-end and organized for less than the cost of horse treats.
The right basket is a great way to keep gloves together with the added bonus of allowing them to dry after those hard summer rides. Larger baskets can do the same for storing wet polo wraps and saddle pads until you can get home to do laundry. At our USDF Region 1 Adult Team Championships, we filled our inexpensive baskets with thrift-store silk flowers for a finished look. I still keep them in my trailer for tack-stall decorating at shows.
Trunks: After kids stop going to summer camp, families usually unload their footlockers at the local thrift store. It’s good news for horsepeople because nothing is better for long-term storage than a sturdy trunk. Keep your show-season items stored safely during the winter and you will have no problem repacking your trailer in the spring. As with baskets, trunks can add a nice finish to your show setup, so keep an eye out for transportable trunks that are sturdy enough to use for extra seating at the show. It is important to note that you should save your most pest- and water-resistant trunks for your most valuable items since antique-style trunks seem to have a rodents’ “welcome” sign on every side.
Backup clothing and towels: It never hurts to have a spare outfit for heat, cold, snow and rain in your trailer tack room. Instead of risking damage to your more expensive clothing from leaving it outside, buy your backup outfits at a thrift store. When you have extra clothing in your trailer, you are more likely to have a clean, dry version during a long weekend away. The last thing you need to be worrying about at a show is being perpetually cold, wet or filthy.
Speaking of clean and dry, you can never have too many towels, and thrift stores have plenty—small, large, new or ragged—so stock up for drying your horse, cleaning tack, wiping your boots or mopping up spills. I encourage you to keep a huge pile in your truck or trailer. You will thank me the next time you get caught in unexpected weather.
There are many more items that you will find at your local thrift shops that can be used to outfit your trailer. I hope that reading this will encourage you to think creatively when organizing your equipment.