Horse blankets are most often used in winter, but sometimes lightweight “fly sheets” are used during the summer to protect horses from biting flies. Show horses are sometimes blanketed for turnout to keep them cleaner if their pen gets muddy. A sick horse may need to be blanketed during inclement weather. Blankets are great when you need them, but keeping them clean can be a chore. Like little kids, horses tend to get their clothes dirty. Then the challenge is how best to wash and dry them.

Dr. Bob Coleman, state extension specialist, University of Kentucky, says the important thing is to read the label that came with the blanket. “When you bought it, there should be instructions for washing and drying. If you no longer have that label and are not sure, go online and find the blanket company, and ask them,” says Coleman.

Many horse blankets should be hung to dry, rather than putting them in a drier. Heat may destroy or damage some of the fabrics in modern blankets. “There are probably some drying cycles that utilize cool air rather than hot, but you’d have to make sure you have it on the right setting or you may ruin the blanket,” he says.

When washing or drying a horse blanket in a machine, gather and secure all the straps so the hardware isn’t clunking around, catching on things and possibly tearing the blanket or damaging the inside of the washer or drier.

“I don’t recommend washing horse blankets at home unless you have a super heavy-duty machine, especially for the heavier blankets. Quilted blankets are heavy when wet and may overload the washer with more weight than it’s designed for,” says Coleman. “In many localities, there are commercial laundromats that do horse blankets and saddle blankets as their business.

“They have machines that can handle washing and the facilities to dry them properly. Then you won’t have to replace your washer because you wore it out. This is also better than taking your blankets to the local laundromat and using their heavy-duty machine. No one wants to follow someone who just washed horse blankets because the machine will still have some horse hair and dirt.”

If someone is allergic to horse hair, this would not be a good thing.

When washing heavy western saddle pads, a person might hang them on the fence and use a power washer, or take them to the car wash.

“You can hang saddle pads on the mat hooks and wash them downward so you don’t soak them clear through and just wash the top parts. Then you can lay them over the fence in the sunshine to dry. This could also work with horse blankets. The car wash might take the first layer of mud and manure off if the horse rolled in the mud,” he says.

“Another option might be to lay them out on a driveway on the blacktop and use a pressure washer or spray attachment on the end of a hose that will put some pressure on it. This will clean off external mud and grime. You may not have to worry much about the inside if your horses are pretty clean when you put their blankets on.”

Once you get a blanket washed, a simple way to dry it would be to hang it over a fence, unless it’s snowing or raining outside. If you need to hang it indoors, use a well-ventilated area.

“The old style wooden drying racks can work to keep the blanket spread out and open. If you have to dry the blanket in an enclosed area, use a fan to create air movement. If it dries more quickly on the outer side, turn it over. The main thing is to have air circulation; it doesn’t have to be warm air,” he says.

Heather Smith Thomas and her husband raise beef cattle and horses on a ranch in the mountains near Salmon. To contact her or order her books — which include “Horse Tales,” “Cow Tales” and “Ranch Tales” — call 208-756-2841 or email hsmiththomas@centurytel.net.

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