Saddle blankets are an important part of your western show wardrobe, because
they’re the visual element that ties you and your horse together and makes
you look like a team. A gorgeous horse, beautifully groomed and clad in the latest
tack, and a rider turned out to perfection, need just the right saddle blanket—in
style, color, and size—to bring the whole look together.
First, let’s talk about saddle blankets from the horse’s point of
view. Blankets are supposed to pad the horse’s back and absorb sweat. Show
blankets don’t do either of these chores, but a liner blanket does: be
sure to always use a work or liner blanket under that fancy show Navajo. (Hint:
most genuine Navajo blankets are hanging in museums these days, not tack rooms,
but it’s OK to use the name for any show blanket). All-in-one blankets
that have good back protection and a decorative top are usually not large enough
or fancy enough for big-time show use, so do plan on using two blankets when
You may be able to use your everyday blanket under a show blanket if the work
blanket is small enough to be completely hidden by the showpiece. If you’re
purchasing a liner just to use at shows, opt for a solid color to match your
horse that’s thick and firm enough to protect the horse’s back, but
not so thick that, when the show blanket is added, your saddle looks
like it’s resting on a stack of mattresses. Look for a liner blanket that
will conform to your horse’s back, absorb sweat (a drier back is a happier
back) and won’t peek out from under the show blanket.
Blankets are available in many designs. Depending on the breed and events you
show in, your blanket may be very simple or a complex pattern of color and line.
Reiners, cow horse exhibitors, and some pleasure horse riders—especially men—choose solid color blankets with either no trim or simple border designs of tooled
leather. Corner conchos-engraved in round or other geometric shapes, with or
without leather or horsehair tassels—add interest to the back edges of these
solid color blankets.
If you like fancier blankets with intricate contrast designs, remember that loom-woven
blanket patterns are always a series of straight lines. Smooth curves are impossible
within the linear format of the weaver’s grid, but almost-curved lines
can be made as a series of small steps giving a slightly jagged finish to the
line. If you want curves in weaving, reinterpret your idea into the geometric
components that can be woven.
Judge a blanket’s impression from a distance, just as it will appear across
the show ring. Fine designs of similar colors will blur in the arena, so bold
contrasts and larger motifs are better bets to carry out a theme from far away.
designs may be a good choice if you wear patterned clothes so there’s
not a clash between blanket and blouse, but complex blanket/shirt coordination
done well looks terrific.
Show blankets should be selected in colors that enhance your wardrobe and flatter
your horse. If you wear black chaps and lots of red, then a black blanket with
a red southwestern hip design is a good investment to go with your wardrobe.
With many show blankets costing several hundred dollars, buy smart and get one
that will work with most your clothes. Keep in mind the part your horse’s
color plays as well: a black blanket will blend into a bay horse’s coat,
but provide strong contrast and beautifully frame your saddle on a gray horse.
Most quality show blankets are woven from 100% wool yarn. Some modestly priced
models use nylon and acrylic yarns, but wool, which dyes to vibrant colors and
weaves beautifully, is still the material of choice. Warp threads (the base threads
in the weave) are usually cotton or nylon, which is stronger than the wool and
doesn’t stretch as much on the loom. Expect a good wool show blanket to
weigh four pounds or more, and know that with reasonable care it will last a
decade or longer.
Gently vacuum your show blankets after use to remove show dust and horsehair,
and don’t forget to use mothballs when you store wool blankets. Dry cleaning
is hard on Navajos and expensive, but can be done by a competent cleaner. If
your blanket ‘springs a leak’ and starts to come unwoven, use a tapestry
needle and matching yarn to darn the damaged
spot, or return it to the maker for mending. Trim yarn ends that occasionally
pop from the weave flush with the blanket, or use a crochet hook to pull these
ends to the back side of the blanket. These ‘loose ends’ are normal
and result from the weaver adding in more yarn as they work. Use wear leathers
to protect the sides of your blanket from staining and abrasion from latigo straps.
With today’s’ show saddles sporting deeper skirts, and designed to
fit larger horse, blanket size is very important. A good starting size for show
blankets is 34" front to back, and 36" side to side. Of course, if
you ride a small horse or have a smaller saddle, you may not need such a large
blanket. Don’t use a double blanket (rectangular, then folded in half to
make two layers) for showing, as the layers tend to shift and the corners curl
as you ride.
Try to test-drive a blanket before you buy it. Use the liner blanket and the
saddle you intend to show in to make sure the blanket’s proportions look
good on your horse and that the design, if any, is still visible when you’re
tacked up. Many shows now require two numbers to be used on the back corners
of show blankets—if your club uses double numbers, remember they may cover or
interfere with your blanket’s design.
As with your other show equipment, invest in the best show blankets within your
budget and you’ll not only look good, you’ll look good for years
to come. Whether you buy off the rack or have a special blanket custom woven,
choose the right style, colors, and size and you and your horse will always look
like a winning team.
Chapter 9 - Accessories