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Tack Swap Starts Season For Horsey Set

It took a moment.

It was, after all, 7:20 on a gray Saturday morning. Not everybody was wide awake yet.

But then Patty Wheaton and James Brookover figured out where they had seen one another before.

“We stood next to each other in line last year, too,” said Wheaton. “Only you were talking to somebody else.”

That established, they went back to talking horses - a language similar to English in sound and cadence, but full of words such as “pasterns” and “fetlocks.”

The line behind them grew and grew. Everyone wore jeans.

In the puddle-pocked parking area, trucks and vans outnumbered cars by about 5-to-1.

The event was the annual tack swap at the Spokane Interstate Fairgrounds, sponsored by Spokane County 4-H Horse Leaders, which receives a 15 percent cut of all sales.

Inside the Floral Building, 4,000 used saddles, bits, blankets and other equine paraphernalia were spread out and waiting for the expected crowd of 3,000 bargain hunters.

Horseback riding season was about to arrive at a gallop, without a horse in sight.

“It’s sort of the annual coming out party,” said Wheaton. “Everybody looks forward to it. It’s the thing to do.”

Socializing is indeed part of it. But another reality has turned the tack swap into a happening. Keeping horses is expensive. So a chance to pick up some decent stuff at reduced prices is not to be missed.

Brookover, an affable man with a mustache and a straw cowboy hat, had a strategy. He wanted to check out the bits. And he knew where they would be displayed.

So his plan was to head straight for them, grab several potential purchases right away and then take a minute to decide. Did he really want any of the bits being offered? “If you just stand back and wait, it’ll be all over before you know it,” he said.

Children marched beside the line, hawking coffee, doughnuts and raffle tickets for a half-share of a pig.

Then people began checking their watches. A buzz started to build.

At 8:01, the garage-like door began going up. And the early birds at the head of the line ducked down and charged inside, followed, in an orderly rush, by everyone else.

“See what I mean,” said Brookover, flashing a smile.

Inside, at 8:02, he had one bit in hand and was looking for more.