Q: What are the best practices for keeping genuine and faux sheepskin saddle pads, bridle padding and girth covers clean and fluffy? I struggled with a few pieces to no avail, and now I avoid sheepskin products even though my sensitive mare probably needs them. —Name withheld by request
A: There are two types of sheepskin products—actual sheep hair still attached to the original skin (very rare these days) and sheep hair that has been attached to a synthetic base. Sheepskin hair in its natural state, before it is processed into saddle-pad products and other things, contains natural oils and lanolin. This is one of the things that makes the hair naturally so soft. Faux sheepskin would be cared for the same way as regular sheepskin.
Hair that is still attached to its natural-skin base must be very carefully maintained, avoiding any chemicals that could dry out the skin and cause it to crack or loosen the hair. Both types of products can be cleaned in a washing machine using a clear, cold-water wash set on a strong machine action. But avoid combining the sheepskin hair in a load of wash with other items, as this could cause pilling, shedding or matting and the hair may lose its natural loose and fluffy integrity.
I recommend Rambo Blanket Wash or human-grade shampoo because they are both very gentle. Human shampoo is commonly used for fine lingerie because it is gentle enough for human hair and skin, yet strong enough to remove oil and grease. Whichever you choose, be very modest in the amount of cleaner you use so that you can get it all out.
Many people use black boot polish on their show boots and this will transfer to your sheepskin saddle pad. Unfortunately, you will not be able to remove it from the hair. Even bleach won’t work and, in fact, shouldn’t be used. This includes Woolite, which contains bleach.
When hand-washing sheep hair, it is best to massage with your fingers rather than put two sides together and scrub or comb the hair. Use your hands as if you were washing your own hair. When you are done with the washing, be sure to rinse your sheepskin products very well.
Drying should not be done in the dryer with tumbling and/or heat. This, too, can cause matting and the hair could easily lose its integrity. Instead, the product should be hung to dry or dried with a fan.
If you have sheepskin (real or faux) on bridles and halters, be sure to remove what you can and follow the above care instructions. For sheepskin that can’t be removed, I use clear water with some Murphy Oil Soap.
Yvonne Bryant operates Equine T.L.C., a full-service horse-blanket business located in Dickerson, Maryland (equinetlccare.com).