To avoid having to buy expensive new horse blankets each year, take care of the blankets you have. In this post, I’ve curated tips for caring for and cleaning winter horse blankets. How did I learn? Well, in addition to being a horse owner myself, for 10 years I owned and operated a tack store in Missouri. There, not only did I sell tack and blankets, but also offered basic repair services and sold replacement parts for many blankets.
Through a combination of caring for my own horse’s blankets and repairing or replacing many horse blankets for customers, I had the opportunity to learn through both experience and word-of-mouth about how to wash horse blankets and do the kind of repairs and deep cleaning that keeps them looking great.
This article is separated into several parts, feel free to skip around using this table of contents as a roadmap:
Routine care for Maintaining Horse Blankets:
Groom before blanketing
Never put a blanket on a horse without grooming the horse first. Doing so can trap dirt and debris between the blanket in the skin, which can cause irritation. Blanketing a dirty horse also gets the interior of your blanket soiled, which can contribute to a decreased ability for the material to provide warmth to your horse. One of the best ways to keep your horse’s blanket clean is to start by always putting it on a clean horse.
Remove and Inspect Underneath Regularly
Throughout the winter, you should provide basic care for blankets. Blankets need to be removed regularly and inspected to make sure that the skin underneath is not irritated and the blanket is well fitted.
During this inspection- before you remove the blanket from the horse, use a flick brush (sometimes called a dandy brush – the type of horse brush that has long brushes extending from a stiff wooden handle) to brush the blanket just like you would your horse’s fur: flick the brush upwards so that dust is lifted up and away from the surface of the blanket.
Blankets that don’t fit can cause a number of issues ranging from painful open sores to shifting of a too-big blanket causing it to be stepped on, dragged, or torn.
Clues to blanket fit can be found by inspecting your horse’s body while you groom. Look for any marks from the blanket, especially around the shoulders, girth, elbows, and between the hind legs where blanket straps rest. It’s important to do this inspection, as untreated blanket rubs can lead to bald spots and, if neglected, even scarring where hair won’t grow back the following spring.
If you find any hairless spots underneath the blanket, adjust your blankets straps, or replace the blanket with a different blanket immediately. In my experience as a tack store owner, rubs of the shoulders were most common, especially for some horses. If your horse tends to rub at the shoulders from a blanket – as wide shouldered horses often do, look into a cape – style blanket as these blankets significantly reduce friction at the shoulders.
Remove Excess Debris from the Blanket
While a deep clean of a blanket mid-winter is rarely warranted, a good surface cleaning can help the blanket stay comfortable and effective. After you’ve inspected your horse’s body, tossed the blanket inside out over a fence. Use a curry comb to remove any excess hair and if you have a horse vacuum or even a shop vac, a quick vacuum of the blanket can help maintain it.
Beat Blanket with a Broom to Restore Loft to Insulation
As the blanket is hung on a fence, beat the blanket with a broom a dozen or so times on each side. This old-fashioned method for cleaning rugs dislodges dirt but worked especially well to “fluff” compressed insulation fiberfill. By decompressing insulation and adding more lof, there’s more space between fibers to trap warm air and insulated against the cold of winter.
Finally, to round out regular blanket maintenance, before re-blanketing your horse, inspect your blanket for any rips, tears, or broken hardware before putting it back on your horse.
Best way to Store Horse Blankets
One of the best ways to protect your horse blankets in the off-season, while storing them in as little space as possible is by using these heavy-duty XXL space-saving vacuum bags. Available in a huge assortment of sizes- even ones big enough to fit the largest and bulkiest winter horse blanket (I promise! They come in such a variety of sizes that last time I moved across the country, I was able to purchase a vacuum bag large enough to fit our mattress!) Vacuum sealed bags protect blankets against rodent damage, dust, moisture, and just about anything else.
For best results when storing horse blankets in vacuum-sealed bags, add a silica packet to the bag before sealing. Silica absorbs moisture and ensures that your blankets will be fresh and mold-free when you open them in the fall. To store your blankets in the least amount of space possible, use a powerful vacuum to seal the bags and gently press on the bag and/or roll it while suctioning air out. This extra manual compression removes more air and allows you to store many compressed horse blankets in the same space needed for just one uncompressed horse blanket – leaving lots of room for other essentials in your tack room.
When vacuum-sealing horse blankets over the winter, you may need to pay a little bit more attention to fluffing blankets in the spring. Most horse blankets have polyester fill to insulate them which tolerates vacuum sealing without damage (down blankets- which arent used for horses- should not be vacuum-sealed due to the potential damage to feathers and down fibers).
In the fall, you’ll need to spend a few minutes fluffing your horse blankets to restore the insulation properties of the polyester fiber fill. This can be achieved by smacking the blanket or hanging it on a clothesline to flap and a strong breeze.
Horse Style Dog blankets
This is a picture of an Airedale dog in a horse blanket style dog blanket. Some brands of horse blanket manufacturers also manufacture blankets for large breed dogs. Using this type of blanket on your dog has several advantages over typical dog sweaters. Not only do horse blankets made for dogs look a bit more distinguished, but horse style blankets are also more functional and stay on a better than typical dog coats and sweaters.
The design of a horse blanket covers the dog better but leaves the belly open. Horse blankets are great for big dogs and little dogs. We like to use horse style dog blankets on snowy days and when we have very cold temperatures after our dog has recently been groomed. Some dogs with thick winter coats don’t need an extra blanket, but dogs bred in warmer climates or dogs that are frequently groomed close to the skin may appreciate a little extra warmth offered by a blanket.
Horse Rain sheets
This photo shows a horse in a rain sheet that is khaki colored with black highlights. Horses can benefit greatly from a rain sheet depending on their environments, coats, and other factors. Most horses are fine as long as they have access to some sort of shelter – run in stalls, a pavilion, or just a large sheltering stand of trees.
They usually don’t need any additional protection from the elements if they are allowed to grow winter coats without clipping or other interference from humans. But some horses, such as those who have been body clipped recently or horses who do not have access to a sheltered area, can benefit from a sheet. Rain sheets are style like horse blankets but without the padding or fill found inside horse blankets.
Rain sheets are usually one layer of covering, possibly lined with a silky fabric at the shoulders and withers, and have a waterproof coating to prevent rain from soaking through. They fit just like turnout horse blankets, these sheets prevent rain, snow, or other wet weather from soaking through to the horse’s skin,
Rain sheets can help prevent skin conditions such as rain rot or other fungi that can be caused by horses staying wet for too long. waterproof sheets have the added benefit of keeping the horse clean. A clean horse covered with a waterproof sheet can lay down in mud or manure without staining their coat. Rain sheets should be checked often to make sure they aren’t rubbing on the shoulders, withers, or chest and that the horse is still dry underneath.
This image shows the chest closure of a TuffRider Stretch Rain Sheet (Though, whoops!, buckled incorrectly. The snaps should be crossed) This sheet has snap hook closures instead of buckles- which can be undone by curious horses- with Velcro at the top to help make the sheet even more secure. Use the Velcro at the top to fit the neck contour to your horse. It is important for a rain sheet to fit the horse’s neck contour well, as a poorly fit rain sheet will actually cause more water to leak down inside the blanket and become potentially harmful to the horse’s skin.
With a Masters Degree in Psychology and two decades of experience as a horseback rider, breeder, and tack store owner, Tatum has developed a unique approach to coaching adult riders that integrates the physical and emotional aspects of developing as a confident rider.