I love, love, LOVE sheepskin saddle pads. They may not be the latest fad, but they're a tried and true classic, and work well for many horses in many disciplines.
A good quality pad that is well cared for will last you 3-5 years with heavy use, and could last many years beyond if light to moderate use. So let's explore how to keep that sheepskin clean, maintained, and operating at top performance!
General Care for Your Sheepskin Pad
A common misconception with sheepskin pads is that they need to be washed often- nope, in fact, it's the opposite. You should try to limit your washing to once a year, maximum. Halfpads don't come into direct contact with the horse, so there's less need to worry about dirt transfer and sweat from the horse. Shaped pads for the hunter classes shouldn't see much dirt transfer because your horse will be clean when you put them on. If the pad doesn't get absolutely soaked in sweat and is dried properly after your class (not in direct sunlight or near a heat source), then you should be able to limit washing.
After each use, your pads should be stored out of the sun, sheepskin side up to allow to air out. After your ride, or maybe once a week, you can "fluff" up your pad using a wire bristle pet hair brush, also called a slicker brush.
Related Post: Fluff Up Your Fleece! How to Revive a Fleece Saddle Pad
Another tip, especially for showing, is to use a light coating of Scotchgard on the sheepskin trim (the part that does NOT touch the horse) to help keep the dust and dirt off.
Now, for when you do need to wash them...
Before we begin, it's important to know what kind of saddle pad you have. Not all sheepskin pads are created equal, and the care instructions for each can be very different. For example, is your sheepskin attached to a leather hide, or a synthetic one? The instructions I'll provide you with are for sheepskin attached to leather hide, which tend to be the ones you have to be the most careful with.
The golden rule... repeat after me...I will NOT use Woolite or any laundry detergent created for washing clothes on my sheepskin! Why? They dry out and damage the wool and the hide, and they void the warranty that comes with many of the high-end pads.
The second most important thing to know is not to set out washing your sheepskin unless you have anywhere from 2-4 days to let it dry. This is not the kind of thing you want to be doing the night before a show.
The pad I'm using for this demonstration is a Thinline full sheepskin saddle pad, which is one of the pads that features sheepskin attached to a full leather hide. This pad is about 3 years old, and has had moderate use for schooling purposes (one horse, 5 times a week).
Some manufacturers say that it's okay to put your sheepskin pad in the washing machine, however, I recommend you hand wash them. It's easier to control the water temperature, you can gently rub out any dirt, you don't have to fret about any damage your pad, and you don't need to be concerned with how different soaps will affect your machine (remember, no laundry detergents on sheepskin!).
Different manufacturers recommend different soaps for their pads. Here's a list of the most popular pads and the soap they require:
Thinline - Eucalan This soap comes in different fragrances, but please use unscented for your horse. NOTE: do NOT use MELP on Thinline Pads!
Mattes - MELP Developed by the makers of E.A. Mattes pads
Fleeceworks - M.O.S.S. Leather Care Laundry Kit I have never tried their leather laundry kit, but the M.O.S.S. saddle cleaner is amongst my favourite on the market, so I would think this stuff is pretty good.
CHRiST - C7 I haven't found a Canadian dealer for this soap, but you can order it from Europe if you choose to do so.
Get yourself a clean, large bucket, or use your laundry room sink and fill it with cold water. Remove any shims that may be in your pad. Add the soap (usually the bottle tells you how much to use) and immerse your pad. Using your hands, start massaging the sheepskin and rubbing areas of dirt.
For the top, cotton area of your pad, you can to scrub a little harder with a brush to help lift those stains!
In the case of this pad, I used Thinline wash on the top of the pad as per manufacturer's instructions.
After soaping, drain the soapy water and rinse WELL with cold water. Soap residue doesn't benefit your pad, or your horse.
Depending on your washing machine, you can just use the spin cycle to wick away the water off your pad. Be careful to use a slow or gentle spin setting, because your wet pad will be quite heavy and will sit to one side of the machine, causing it to be unbalanced in a fast spin cycle. This will make a terrible racket and could damage your machine.
If you can't or don't want to use the spin cycle on your machine, that's okay too. Gently try to remove some of the water from the pad by using your hands like a squeegee to push the water out. You can also try rolling your pad the way you would an air mattress or plastic bag to squeeze water out. Don't wring the pad, but try to get out as much water as you can.
Now For Drying
The best way I have found to do it is to lay out a few towels, put the pad sheepskin side up on the towels, and turn on my dehumidifier, like in this picture:
If you don't have a dehumidifier, don't worry about it. The most important thing when drying these pads is to NOT put them in direct sunlight or expose them to a heat source. It'll shrink the leather and destroy your pad.
Because leather can constrict during the drying process, it's important to gently pull your pad back into shape as it dries. I usually do this 3 times the first day when it's really wet and once the second.
Another drying tip: if you have a pad that has pockets for shims, you can place chamois (or "car shammys"), or paper towels in the pockets to help absorb some of the water. Just be sure to change them every so often so that you're not leaving them in there wet (defeats the "drying" purpose).
Once your pad is completely dry, you can take the slicker/pet brush to it to fluff it up. Et voila! you're done!
Until next time...Happy Riding!
-Fluff Up Your Fleece! How to Revive a Fleece Saddle Pad
-Tack Cleaning: The Old Faithful Saddle
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