By mid winter, most of us have a barn full of filthy horse blankets, covered with hair, dust and, of course, mud. A few simple tips can help extend your horse blanket life and make your own life less complicated.
Assuming you're starting with a blanket that fits properly, we suggest:
1. Keep a cotton sheet next to the horse's hair under the heavier stable or turnout blanket(s). Use a plain cotton sheet or even a cotton knit or cotton fleece cooler, which then wicks residual moisture after you ride or if the horse gets hot running in the pasture. You simply launder the sheet in a home machine, and you significantly reduce the need to launder the heavier blanket. If you have two sheets, you can rotate them while one is being washed.
This extends the life of the blanket by not bashing it in a washer; you save money washing blankets over the winter; and you don't need an extensive wardrobe of spares to replace those being laundered. Your horse's coat also stays healthier, because the sheet next to his hair is always clean.
2. If you use more than one layer with leg straps, remove the straps from the bottom layer(s). The straps from the top layer helps hold everything in place. This saves you time while changing blankets and reduces the number of straps that could tangle.
3. When you purchase a blanket, carefully consider the length of the horse's back. It's better to have a blanket that is too long rather than one that is too short. Tightness over the croup causes rubs as it pulls back against the shoulder. It also causes stress on the material and stitching. A blanket that is too short or way too long in the back can cause a blanket to slip to the side and get torn.
4. Consider buying a turnout sheet instead of a heavier (and more expensive) turnout rug that only can be used in cold weather. The sheet is easier to handle and hose off and can go right over the stable blanket in the winter for turnout. It can then carry over into the summer months if you use a sheet to reduce grooming time and to protect the coat from sun. A sheet's also a lot easier to repair than a rug. Another alternative is to buy a "system" that includes a rug/turnout-sheet combination that can be snapped together and used three different ways: rug alone in the stable, sheet alone in the pasture, or rug/sheet together for winter turnout.
5. When blanket shopping, consider blankets with snap-on leg straps rather than attached leg straps. Snap-ons can be removed if using more than one layer. Keep an extra set of elastic leg straps handy. If a leg strap breaks, you're back in business immediately rather than waiting for a prolonged repair. Elastic leg straps will more likely stretch rather than break when stressed, reducing breakage of both straps and blanket material.
6. Use your local cobbler for repairs, especially for a simple matter of sewing on a strap. This takes less time and won't require a replacement while waiting for the old blanket to be fixed. But you'll need to wash the blanket or sheet before asking the cobbler to do the work. In fact, anyone doing blanket repairs requires the same thing because dirt damages stitching equipment. If you have a front-loading washer you can wash most heavy blankets at home-otherwise you'll need to take the blanket to a coin-operated laundry or use a blanket-washing service.
7. Do blanket cleaning and repairs in the late spring rather than waiting for fall. If you wait, you have to line up behind others rushing to get their blankets fixed/cleaned. By then, you also can misplace blankets and torn straps in the loft or lose them in a pile of similar-colored blankets from other boarders in your barn. You'll be headed to the tack shop for new blankets instead of using the ones you already own. Summer mildew in dirty blankets weakens the fabric, while bugs and rodents love dirty blankets to build nests and will create holes in the blanket lining.
8. Spring is the time to buy new blankets on sale if you can anticipate your needs for the fall.