As the cooler weather blows in, so does the need to start thinking about breaking out our horse’s blankets for the year! For some equestrians, this simply means opening their tote full of clean blankets that they packed away last year… but for some of us we are not that ahead of the game, and our blankets are still in the back of our tack room in a dirty heap (#oops). Life sometimes gets away from us, and we’re not as organized as we’d like, but now is the perfect time (before winter comes at us full force) to get those blankets clean and in working order for the season!
Not sure if your horse needs to wear a blanket? Check out “When Does My Horse Need A Blanket?” for more tips!
Washing Do's and Don'ts
The first step in preparing your blankets to be worn is getting them nice and clean! Because of their size and level of filth (who else has a horse that could be confused for Pig Pen??) they can be a little cumbersome to wash.
The first step is to get them as clean as possible before you put them in the washing machine. So grab a super-stiff brush (a water tank scrub brush works great) and curry off all the excess mud and dirt that you can. It’s also not a terrible idea to hose them down before washing to get that first layer of grime off.
For most sheets and lightweight blankets, a normal washing machine will suffice, but for heavier and extra dirty blankets, a commercial/industrial washer is necessary. If you’re lucky enough to have a washing machine in your barn (or a family that doesn’t mind if you use your at-home washing machine for pony clothes) go ahead and throw them in on a gentle/cool cycle, as well as buckling all the blanket straps to protect the hardware. Use a mild detergent or one specially designed for washing horse blankets. My favorite is the Rambo Blanket Wash because it’s non-toxic, phosphate-free, and will not harm your blanket’s waterproofing.
If you don’t have a washer at your barn or home, many local laundromats will have commercial washers specially designated for horse laundry or pet laundry. If they aren’t specifically marked for pet laundry, it’s respectful to ask the laundromat attendant whether blankets are allowed or not.
Front-load washers work best, as agitators can damage the blankets. The size of the blanket’s and weight will determine how many blankets to wash at once. If in doubt, load the machine less because overloading can cause excessive wear and tear on the washer.
After washing, make sure to let your blankets line dry, as excessive heat can degrade the waterproofing and damage the fabric. I normally hang my out on a sunny day over a fence and let the sun and wind do the work.
If your blankets are a few years old or you’ve noticed they haven’t been repelling water as well, it might be time to give them a re-waterproofing. There are a ton of waterproofing products on the market but I find a wash in-formula, such as Nikwax, to be the easiest.
It’s also important to check your blankets for rips, tears, and other problems. It’s virtually impossible to have a perfect blanket year after year (who else has a habitual blanket shredder?). You’ll need to evaluate whether you can handle the repairs yourself, need to send them out to a professional, or if it’s time to retire the blanket. I’m useless with any sort of patching or sewing so always send my repairs out to a professional. Check out your local tack shop, or Facebook pages for individuals who offer washing and repair services!
When To Replace?
This is a question we get a lot at the store… and don’t get me wrong, I am all for prolonging the life of my blankets for years and years, but there comes a point where they are just too far gone. The biggest red flag for me that it’s time to say goodbye to a blanket is when the waterproofing just isn’t holding up anymore. My horses live out 24/7 so having a blanket that protects them from the elements is paramount. If I’ve tried to re-waterproof multiple times and it’s just not working, then I either transition them to being “stable blankets” or give them the funeral they deserve. The other marker that it’s probably time to say goodbye is when there is such a substantial rip or tear that encompasses most of the blanket. Most of the time these tears can still be repaired, but any place where the sheet has to be restitched compromises the water resistance, especially if the rip is along the spine or someplace where water or snow will make direct contact with the horse’s back.
(I saw the above rip in Mira's flysheet the other year and knew it was a lost cause... gotta love horses right!)
After your blankies are clean, re-waterproofed, and repaired, it’s time to either store them (once they're completely dry) in an airtight container or put them on your four-legged friend!