Do you blanket your horse on cold winter days? If so, you know that to your equine friend and his pasture buddies, that blanket represents extra padding during a game of tag, or it gets in the way while scratching a really big itch, or it takes the brunt of a well-aimed bite.
By spring, your horse's winter blanket can end up torn or in tatters from these antics, but replacing them can be a bank account-buster. So, since your horses aren't going to mend their ways, learn how to do a little mending yourself. Here are some tips.
? Wash the blanket.
Wash your blanket before repairing it. First, remove as much hair from the lining as possible. A stiff brush will work, but a circular metal curry is best - just go easy, so the sharp teeth don't gouge the material.
To wash the blanket, use a large machine at your local Laundromat. (Washing a heavy winter blanket in your home washing machine is pretty much out of the question.)
Detergent can damage waterproofing, so use a mild soap, or a product formulated for washing waterproof blankets (such as Nikwax or Rambo Blanket Wash). Hang the blanket over a fence to dry.
? Assess the damage
. Spread out the blanket, and match up any torn edges. If no big chunks are missing, you're in good shape. Simple rips can be sewn, holes can be covered with a patch, surcingles can be replaced, and leather parts can be stitched back together.
? Gather the materials.
If you have a heavy-duty sewing machine, you're home free. But even if you don't have a machine - or don't know a lot about sewing - you can do a fair repair job by hand.
Buy some carpet/canvas needles at a sewing, craft, or dollar store. You'll also need heavy-duty thread, but dental floss works really well, too - so does fishing line. Heavyweight-denim iron-on patches are good for covering tears and holes.
There are also pressure-sensitive tapes, patch-and-glue kits, and seam sealers made for repairing horse blankets. Check tack shops or such websites as www.horseware.com, www.smartpak.com, and www.sstack.com. Camping-supply stores, catalogs, and websites also sell tent and sleeping-bag repair tapes, patches, and seam sealers that will work.
? Bridge the gaps.
A rip in the outside covering of a multilayer winter blanket will need to be covered with repair tape or a patch. You can buy patches or make one by cutting a slightly larger piece of fabric from an old blanket. Fold under the edges and sew it over the hole or tear.
There's a YouTube video showing how to do this on your own sewing machine. Go to www.youtube.com
, and search for "repair horse blanket." Another video demonstrates how to use a patch-and-glue repair kit.
Iron-on patches work, too. Put one on each side, and stitch around the edges to reinforce it. When you're finished, coat the edges with a seam sealer. Take care that the underside of your repair is smooth next to your horse's skin.
? Replace missing parts.
Many tack shops sell replacement leg straps - when you invest in a new blanket, look for one with removable straps to make this repair easier. Surcingles and chest straps aren't as readily available, so before you throw out shredded-beyond-repair blankets or sheets, cut off any useable surcingles, chest straps, and hardware to use for future blanket repair.
Sew straps and surcingles back on with a carpet needle threaded with dental floss. Apply a piece of heavy material on the inside to strengthen the repair.
? Use an awl
. Pushing a needle through heavy nylon or leather straps can be risky to your fingers. Instead, use an awl. Every barn should have one of these inexpensive, little leather-stitching devices for repairing tack. The waxed thread it uses and the locking stitch it makes provide a sturdy way to reattach surcingles and chest straps. Awls are designed to push thick thread through existing holes in leather, but they also work pretty well punching new paths through nylon straps. Awls are available at leather craft stores and online for about $15.
? Call the pros.
If your blanket is really battered, or your knees buckle at the thought of sewing on a buckle, it's time to call the pros. Many tack shops offer blanket-repair services, and some people with sewing skills will repair blankets for a nominal fee.
Nancy Butler is an avid horsewoman, longtime journalist, and freelance writer based in Delaware.