Marilyn Hagen is a much-appreciated member of the equine community in Northwest Washington State. She has owned and operated a leather and horse blanket repair and cleaning business named R & M Leather for 30 years. Marilyn also makes specialty leather items. Along with her husband Rick, they’ve operated a dairy farm in the past and now raise beef cows.
Both hard working people, Rick also sells hay, and many of his clients are also Marilyn’s clients. People have been able to drop off blankets for cleaning and pick up hay sometimes on the same trip.
Marilyn has run R & M Leather out of the dairy barn in Sumas, Washington for many years now. The spacious refurbished dairy barn made an excellent place to run the business with plentiful space, water, and an already designed way to deal with the copious gray water that comes from washing multiple horse blankets every week.
For decades, Marilyn drove many miles on a regular route around Whatcom and Skagit Counties, picking up dirty, ripped-up horse blankets and dropping off clean, repaired ones. Her services were greatly appreciated by horse people of all kinds. Certainly, the horses appreciated the clean blankets as well.
Marilyn is preparing to retire from the blanket cleaning and repair business in September. She will continue to do some leather repair, but her hope is to now have more time to ride her horse (an upper-level dressage horse) and play with her grandchildren.
Recently, Marilyn shared some of her story with The Northwest Horse Source in a conversation with our editor, Kim Roe. In keeping with this issue’s focus on tack and equipment, we’re pleased to share some of that conversation with you.
When did you become interested in horses?
I’ve loved horses all my life and began riding at 18. I got my first horse after Rick and I got married. Rick was a dairy farmer, so we had the space, but Rick said it had to be a “free” horse. I think he hoped I’d lose interest!
What do you do with your horses?
Dressage is my passion and has been for many years. I started out doing hunter/jumpers but had a bad fall and realized jumping really wasn’t my thing. I quickly moved into dressage.
Why did you start R & M Leather?
To pay for my horse habit!
How did you get started working with leather and washing and repairing blankets?
I took a class in 1990 from a saddle maker in Monroe, Washington; it wasn’t long before I was working for him and doing a lot of his repairs. After we moved to Burlington (a town north of Monroe), I started doing leatherwork for others on my own but learned I couldn’t make a living doing just leather work in this area. I started washing and repairing blankets for people right around the same time.
We moved to the Sumas farm in 1995. There wasn’t anyone in the area doing this service except for the Blanket Lady who was quite a bit farther south. I found out soon this was a service people really need. Word of mouth spread the news and the business eventually started making more money than the dairy.
What has been the best part of being in this business?
Definitely the interaction with other horse people. I’ve enjoyed dropping by people’s barns and catching up with what’s happening in lives of other horse people. The horse community is a tight-knit group. I also really like repairing blankets. It’s like putting puzzles together!
What’s the worst part of it?
The intense physical work. I’ve averaged between 400-800 blankets a month. When the moon and stars align in the fall and the spring, everyone suddenly needs their blankets washed…now! The blankets are really heavy coming out of the washers and then they need to be lifted onto the drying lines. It’s taken a toll on me physically.
Happy retirement Marilyn! Thank you for your many years of service.
Kim Roe grew up riding on the family ranch and competed in Western rail classes, trail horse, reining, working cow, and hunter/jumper. She trained her first horse for money at 12 years old, starting a pony for a neighbor.
Kim has been a professional dressage instructor in Washington state for over 30 years, training hundreds of horses and students through the levels. In recent years Kim has become involved in Working Equitation and is a small ‘r’ Working Equitation judge with WE United.
Kim is the editor of the Northwest Horse Source Magazine, and also a writer, photographer, and poet. She owns and manages Blue Gate Farm in Deming, Washington where she continues to be passionate about helping horses and riders in many disciplines.