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Saddle blankets made from alpaca fleece offer horses more comfort

  • Anne Wiktor, owner of The Alpaca Horse, displays examples of her saddle blankets made from alpaca Wednesday, March 6, at her home in Chesterfield.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Anne Wiktor, owner of The Alpaca Horse, displays examples of her saddle blankets made from alpaca Wednesday, March 6, at her home in Chesterfield.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Anne Wiktor, owner of The Alpaca Horse, displays examples of her saddle blankets made from alpaca Wednesday, March 6, at her home in Chesterfield.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Anne Wiktor, owner of The Alpaca Horse, displays examples of her saddle blankets made from alpaca Wednesday, March 6, at her home in Chesterfield.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Anne Wiktor, owner of The Alpaca Horse, displays examples of her saddle blankets made from alpaca Wednesday, March 6, at her home in Chesterfield.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Anne Wiktor, owner of The Alpaca Horse, displays examples of her saddle blankets made from alpaca Wednesday, March 6, at her home in Chesterfield.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Label on alpaca horse blanket made by The Alpaca Horse.JERREY ROBERTS

    Label on alpaca horse blanket made by The Alpaca Horse.JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Examples of horse blankets made by The Alpaca Horse at the home of the owner, Anne Wiktor of Chesterfield, Wednesday, March 6.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Examples of horse blankets made by The Alpaca Horse at the home of the owner, Anne Wiktor of Chesterfield, Wednesday, March 6.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Examples of horse blankets made by The Alpaca Horse at the home of the owner, Anne Wiktor of Chesterfield, Wednesday, March 6.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Examples of horse blankets made by The Alpaca Horse at the home of the owner, Anne Wiktor of Chesterfield, Wednesday, March 6.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Anne Wiktor, owner of The Alpaca Horse, displays examples of her saddle blankets made from alpaca Wednesday, March 6, at her home in Chesterfield.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Anne Wiktor, owner of The Alpaca Horse, displays examples of her saddle blankets made from alpaca Wednesday, March 6, at her home in Chesterfield.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Anne Wiktor, owner of The Alpaca Horse, displays examples of her saddle blankets made from alpaca Wednesday, March 6, at her home in Chesterfield.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Label on alpaca horse blanket made by The Alpaca Horse.JERREY ROBERTS
  • Examples of horse blankets made by The Alpaca Horse at the home of the owner, Anne Wiktor of Chesterfield, Wednesday, March 6.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Examples of horse blankets made by The Alpaca Horse at the home of the owner, Anne Wiktor of Chesterfield, Wednesday, March 6.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

“I see people spend $3,000 or $4,000 on a saddle, and then they stick a cotton or foam filled saddle pad underneath it. That is like buying a pair of $400 shoes and wearing them without socks,” Wiktor said.

Wiktor has been involved in the equestrian world for 40 years. She is a licensed judge for horse shows, teaches riding classes, buys and sells horses and is now the owner of a business called The Alpaca Horse.

“It is extremely important what goes between the saddle and the horse,” Wiktor said. “Over the years I kept seeing all these horses with sore backs from blankets that create friction and do not wick away sweat. I began to think that there has to be something better.”

In her research, she discovered that in the western states where cowboys still ride horses for work, the majority use saddle blankets made of alpaca fleece. Alpacas are the smaller cousins of llamas.

“We didn’t really have alpaca fleece in the U.S. until the mid ’80s. Now it is very popular out West, and with good reason,” she said.

According to Wiktor, the alpaca fleece is softer and more durable than sheep’s wool and it doesn’t mat down as much, providing more of a cushion under the saddle. She says it also wicks away moisture, does not easily collect debris and is very easy to clean.

“They naturally repel dirt. You can just give it a little shake, and you’re good to go. If it is extremely dirty, you can wash it in a mild detergent or shampoo,” she said.

Wiktor said as popular as alpaca blankets are in the West, they have yet to get a foothold in the Northeast. So, she decided to make a few alpaca blankets for her own use.

Using locally sourced alpaca fleece, Wiktor had a few prototypes made to test, and said the blankets made a big difference.

“They were wonderful. I rode all summer in 90-degree weather. When I got back, I would take the saddle blanket off, and my horses back would be dry,” she said.

That is when she began to think about creating The Alpaca Horse.

“I couldn’t find alpaca saddle blankets anywhere out here,” Wiktor said.

Wiktor said she is the only producer of this type of blanket on the East Coast.

Keeping it local, organic

The alpaca fleece Witkor uses comes from farms in Goshen, Westfield and Whately.

One of Wiktor’s sources is North East Alpacas in Whately, owned by Howard and Lisa Beaudry, where alpacas are raised for breeding stock and fiber.

“Alpaca is stronger, warmer and lighter than wool,” Howard Beaudry said. “It is also hypoallergenic. Many people who are allergic to wool find that they are not allergic to alpaca fleece because it does not contain lanolin.”

Beaudry said that the alpaca fleece is more comparable to cashmere than to wool.

“It doesn’t have the itch factor that wool has because it does not have the small barbs on the fiber that wool does,” he said.

Beaudry said that the alpaca are shorn once a year.

“Depending on the size and fleece density of the animal, you can get 5 to 20 pounds of fleece from one alpaca,” he said.

“I wanted to use local, sustainable material,” Wiktor said. “I have a good relationship with the producers. I see the animals, and I know how the fleece is stored and treated.”

Wiktor hand picks each fleece, and says it takes about 2 pounds of fleece to make a saddle blanket. Once she has 20 to 40 pounds, she delivers them to a small woman-owned and operated fiber mill in Connecticut.

“The blankets are completely organic, cleaned with organic soap without using any chemicals or dyes. Each one is handmade on a wooden loom, so no two blankets are the same,” she said.

The 27-by-36-inch blankets sell at $245 each and come in black, cream, light chestnut, brown, dark brown and gray and a combination.

According to Wiktor, alpacas come in 32 different shades, which is more colors than any other animal fiber.

“Because they are all natural, the blankets are not dyed, but reflect the color of the actual alpaca fleece,” she said.

While her blankets were specifically designed for horses, Wiktor said many people who do not ride use them as decorative accents.

“I have had people buy them to hang on the wall, use as a bedside rug or a meditation rug,” she said.

Witkor said business has been great and she has a solid customer base.

“Once people use one, they immediately realize the benefits, durability and longevity,” she said.

Wiktor said she has mostly kept the market close and local, saying that blankets sell very well through word of mouth as they become more popular among equestrians on the East Coast.

“I use the Internet and friends as well as my current riding students to get the word out,” Wiktor said. “I am happy to have the business grow slowly, that way I know that each customer will be entirely satisfied.”

Great article. Here is The Alpaca Horse website: http://www.thealpacahorse.com/index.html

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