You’ve invested hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars in outfitting your horse with sheets, coolers, stable blankets, and turnouts. You’ve painstakingly chosen colors and styles, denier, and fill weight to meet all your horse’s needs.
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Yet despite your best efforts to keep the paddock clean, the stalls spotless, and playful pasture mates entertained, you know it won’t be long before your horse finds a comfortable spot to roll or decides to play a game of Blanket Destroyer with his buddy.
Don’t despair. With some expert help, we’ll explain how you can maintain your horse’s wardrobe with confidence and preserve it for years to come.
Daily Care: A Little at a Time
Professional equine laundering services wash, dry, and repair blankets of all sizes and models. Trained staff members refurbish blankets and return them to you, ready to perform like new. Yet while laundering services offer expertise, they may not always be an option. This is where DIY savvy comes in.
Get into the habit of regularly cleaning your horse’s blanket a little bit at a time; it goes a long way. Brush off the blanket’s shell every few days with a stiff brush. Better yet, if you have an area to spread the blanket out, use a broom to sweep off dried mud and manure. Take time to knock dirt off the snaps and buckles, too. Frequent cleanings reduce buildup so that when it’s time to wash the blanket, it won’t be overwhelming.
Washing: Prepare, Protect
Before you get started, read the blanket manufacturer’s guidelines for laundering and follow them, so you don’t void any warranties. Then use the following suggestions as further guidelines. →
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Remove excess hair and grime. Use a stiff brush or vacuum to get rid of loose dirt. Depending on how dirty the blanket is, you may also want to hose off accumulated muck.
Take off any detachable straps, then place them and the blanket in a mesh bag. This will contain the straps and keep them from becoming entangled or damaging laundry equipment.
Locate a washing machine, either at home or at the local public machine-laundry. Avoid machines with agitators; a front-loading machine is preferable for washing a bulky item. If using your washing machine at home, evaluate the drum size and the weight of the blanket to determine the machine’s ability to handle the load. If you must push and cram a blanket to get it in, the drum’s too small. Your home washer probably can handle the weight of a sheet or medium-weight stable blanket, but not a heavy-duty turnout blanket. High-capacity machines at public laundries are designed for bulky loads. Check the detergent dispenser and clean out any residue.
Select a wash that’s detergent-free. Detergents weaken waterproofing treatments and can irritate a sensitive horse’s skin the next time he wears the blanket. Such products as Rambo Blanket Wash, among others, are specifically designed to gently clean horse blankets of all makes and models.
Load your blanket into the machine, and select the cold-water temperature setting. You might assume hot water sterilizes what you clean. However, hot water damages blankets. Hot water deteriorates waterproofing and breathability treatments on turnout blankets, and can shrink stable sheets or coolers made of cotton and fleece. Set the machine to the gentle or delicate cycle, and let it run.
Leave a clean machine. Wipe down the drum and run a rinse cycle once you’re done. Some public laundries require you to run horse blankets through two cycles before rinsing the machine.
Proper Drying and Storage
Once the blanket is clean, follow these procedures for drying and storing it.
• Don’t automatically throw the blanket in the dryer. Some manufacturers caution against dryers in all situations, while others suggest low to moderate heat settings to revitalize the blanket’s waterproof coating or to fluff the inner fill. High-heat settings can compromise the blanket’s waterproofing; if the temperature is too high, it can even melt some fabrics. Sheets and coolers can go in the dryer, but use lower heat settings to avoid shrinking.
• When in doubt, air-dry. Air-drying is without question the safest option for any blanket.
• After given adequate time to dry, turnouts may require re-waterproofing. You can purchase waterproofing agents at big-box stores or from tack stores that carry blanket-care products. Thoroughly apply the product to the blanket, following the directions on the label. Diligently treat seams where water is prone to seeping in.
• Allow blankets to dry completely before storing. Blankets put away wet are likely to mold. Damp stitching rots, and moist hardware corrodes.
• Once dry, blankets can be stowed in any container that protects the blanket from dust, moisture, or rodents. Newly purchased blankets arrive in sturdy plastic bags. Those bags can later be used to store laundered blankets. Plastic tubs with locking lids are also a good option and, depending on size, can store more than one blanket at a time. If space is at a premium, consider space-saver bags that use a vacuum to suck out excess air and reduce bulkiness.
Rips, Tears, Broken Hardware
You’ve seen your horses playing in the pasture and often wondered how long any blanket will hold up to a nipper’s teeth. In many situations, rips, tears, or broken hardware are inevitable. But damage doesn’t always mean the blanket is ready for the trash. Sizeable repairs may require a professional service, but you can mend some tears at home, saving time and money. Here are some tips.
• Use adhesive seam tape or patches to fix small to medium holes that don’t require stitching. Seam tape may not fully seal all edges, so avoid using it along the spine, hips, and shoulders, where seam leaks will chill a horse quickly.
• Avoid sewing waterproof turnout blankets. Stitching pierces the fabric, compromising the fabric’s ability to shed water. Contact the blanket manufacturer or a repair service for large repairs on turnout blankets where seam tape or patches won’t work.
• Also keep in mind that embroidery for identification or decorative purposes also pierces the fabric. Ask that embroidery be located on one of the surcingle straps or the lowest point on the left chest area to minimize damage to the blanket.
• Cotton stable sheets, stable blankets, and other non-waterproof fabrics can be sewn, either by machine or by hand. If possible, select a sewing-machine model that can use heavier-gauge needles and weighty fabric, such as those designed for tapestries or leather. For hand stitching, use a strong needle or sewing awl. Regardless of how the stitching is completed, choose a durable thread that won’t easily break or rot.
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Thanks to Stacey Wigmore, of Weatherbeeta USA, and Renee Portnoy, of SmartPak, for contributing their blanket insights.