Saddle Pad Care

Cherry Hill's
Horsekeeping Almanac

Tack Care
and Cleaning
on a Small Acreage
How To Think
Like A Horse
Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping Almanac
Horse Tack Care and Cleaning by Cherry Hill
Horsekeeping On A Small Acreage
How to Think Like A Horse by Cherry Hill

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May 2009

  2009 Cherry Hill   Copyright Information

This newsletter is a personal letter from me to you,
a fellow horse owner and enthusiast.
My goal is to answer some of your questions and send you interesting stories
and helpful tips for your horse care, training, and riding.

Horse skin check

Yippee !! Spring has sprung and riding season is upon us. This time of year as you are getting your horses back into shape, you'll likely be going through many wet saddle blankets, right? Right !

Be sure to take care of this important piece of tack. Have a great ride,

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Saddle Pad Care
  2009 Cherry Hill   Copyright Information


Daily Use

As with other tack, you'll likely do better during competition if you train in the same pad you're going to compete in. If your "Sunday" pad is the most comfortable one for your horse, take it off the rack and use it for daily training and buy another just like it for competition. Any pad worth its salt should last at least 3 years.

Sticks, leaves, pine needles and burs can find their way under the pad, especially when riding through brush or woods. This can cause behavior changes in your horse at the least and a serious sore at worst. When you're riding through brushy areas, stop frequently and uncinch the saddle to check under the pad for foreign objects, especially if it seems like your horse is trying to tell you something. If you stop riding the horse as soon as you notice a sore starting he'll generally heal up pretty quick. If you continue to ride a horse that's got a sore on his back or withers, you will soon be without a mount.

Pads containing synthetic materials, like PVC and open and closed-cell foams, can be quite stiff in cold temperatures. It's a good idea to either warm the pad before putting it on the horse or let the pad warm up against the horse's back for about five minutes after saddling and before giving the cinch the final tightening. That way the pad will conform better to the horse's back.

What about hot weather riding? It's important to keep a dry pad on the horse as much as you can and unsaddle a horse whenever you get the chance. If a pad is wet when you start, and a horse's skin stays damp, it's a lot easier for a sore to get started. Wool pads and wool fleece pads dry quickly so are favorites of endurance riders.

After use, many riders spread the blanket wet side up over their saddle to dry. The problem: the saddle keeps air from getting underneath to flow through the blanket. A blanket or pad will dry better if air can get to both sides. The best way to dry pads and blankets is to hang them upside down over a thin metal rod. I've got a rack of drying rods located under an overhang of my barn. As soon as I unsaddle, the blanket is hung up and starts drying in the Colorado breeze. The rods swivel so I can swing them out in the sun as well.


The main complaint about felt pads is that they get stiff after a while. The reason felt pads get stiff is because they absorb horse sweat, which contains salt and other minerals and which also carries dirt from the horse's coat into the pad. The sweat evaporates and the dirt and minerals accumulate in the felt, making it stiff and crusty.

One way around this is to use a washable liner (underpad) next to the horse. A thin blanket or felt pad works well. Having several liners on hand will ensure your main pad or blanket stays cleaner, especially during shedding season.

Blankets and pads should be cleaned regularly. If you can feel any hard or crusty areas on a pad or blanket or if it smells bad, it is overdue for washing. Most new pads and blankets come with washing instructions. If you have specific questions call the manufacturer.

Waterless Cleaning

I recommend brushing and vacuuming pads and blankets often to increase their life and maximize time between washings. I've found that it saves time in the long run and is easier on the material if I clean them frequently without water. And you'll probably find that a blanket that is 10% dirty grips your horse better than one that is freshly clean out of the washer. Here is my waterless cleaning method:

  • Let the blanket or pad dry after a ride before cleaning it.
  • If the blanket is very dirty, first slap it against a door, wall or panel to knock the dried dirt, sweat and hair loose.
  • Place the pad or blanket bottom side up on a firm flat surface.
  • Use a brush in a circular motion to raise the nap of the material, loosen crusty areas, and remove the majority of the hair. A sarvis-style curry brush (plastic hose brush), works well on felt, woven fabrics, and short fleece. So does a human hairbrush with little balls on the bristle ends. A brush with hard steel bristles is often too sharp and can cut or fray felt and blanket material. However, a steel dog grooming brush works great for brushing out long fleece pads.
  • Vacuum to remove scurf and dirt imbedded in the material.

Washing Wool

Most people think heat is the main reason processed wool fabrics shrink. Although heat will "shrink" the diameter of the wool fibers, it is agitation such as from a washing machine or dryer that shrinks the length of the fibers.

To wash a wool blanket, soak it for an hour in water (most manufacturers recommend cold or lukewarm). Squeeze the blanket to remove as much water as you can and hang the blanket over a rail. Lightly brush it on both sides. Let the blanket air dry completely and then slap it against a solid surface, such as a clean, smooth wall, until it feels soft as new.

Wool, especially, can be damaged by an alkaline solution, so when using soap it's best to use a ph balanced shampoo (between 5.5 and 8) or non-sudsing blanket wash specially designed for washing blankets and pads made of wool. If you use detergent (Woolite is a liquid detergent), use very little and make sure to rinse every trace of soap from the blanket or pad. Otherwise, soap can work out of the pad when a horse sweats and irritate and sore the horse's back.

When machine washing blankets and pads, to be sure they are rinsed thoroughly run them through an additional heavy wash cycle using only water, no soap. Whether washing by hand or by machine, adding a cup of white vinegar or 1/2 cup of Calgon to the rinse water will help flush out the soap. (A vinegar rinse, incidentally, also works on horses' manes and tails to remove any shampoo residue that might cause the horse to rub.)

Cleaning Foam Pads

Open-cell foam, the absorbent, sponge-like padding used in some pads, can be soaked in warm water, squeezed or pressed to remove the water and dirt, and then air dried in the shade (some foams are damaged by the sun's ultra violet rays). Soap can be extremely difficult to rinse completely from open-cell foam, so use very little or none. Closed-cell foam, like neoprene, is non-absorbent so washing with soap is not a problem, but usually isn't necessary since this material usually wipes or rinses clean with plain water.

Other Washing Tips

Some combination pads are so rigid they won't go into a washing machine, so spraying them by hand is the best alternative. One method is to hang them on a fence inside out, spray them with cold water, let them hang until dry enough to use.

For more aggressive washing, you can take pads to a car wash, hang them by the floor mat clips or lay them on the concrete, and spray them clean them with high-pressure rinse water. Don't use the wash cycle as you don't want automotive detergent in your saddle blanket!

Alternatively, you can buy a high-pressure sprayer (around $150 at building and farm supply stores and through tool catalogs) for cleaning blankets and pads as home.

Some colorful blankets will bleed onto a light-colored horse when the horse sweats. To help set the dye and minimize bleeding, wash the blanket before use in cold water and half a cup of vinegar.

Your horse depends on you and you on him, but you're the one in charge of the tack. Find a pad that works on your horse and keep it clean.

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  2009 Cherry Hill   Copyright Information

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  2009 Cherry Hill   Copyright Information

The information contained on this site is provided for general informational and educational purposes only.
The suggestions and guidelines should not be used as the sole answer for a visitor's specific needs.