I've done both...admittedly, the english pads work better in your average topload washing machine...big western pads do better in the sideloaders you find at laundrymats. For wool, felt or any other natural fiber, I usually wash on cold and line dry. For synthetics, I'll just toss them in the dryer. Real fleece, I still do by hand.
I did wash fleece one by hand: just spread from hose lots of time till get clean, and then put it outside to dry (no soap or smth!). I was told at trail riding barn that fleece pads are not great for laundry.
Funny, since I did the post. But I've come with with my own anwser. This weekend as my husband was presure washing the boat, I thought about pressure washing my saddle pads. I was amazed....it worked soooooo good. Just spray, and all of the crusted dirt just went away, took about 5 mins to do it. They looked brand new again.
And now, I think I'm becoming an advid fan of the pressure washer....I think there are alot of things I want to wash. We borrowed one this weekend, but I think I'm going to buy one.
Thanks for all your help, if you can ever try the pressure washer go for it.
I tried to clean my english saddle pad in the washer because it was muddy and covered in hair, most of the hair came out, but it went in the washer instead, so my next load of laundry was covered in horse hair :P
I would say vacuum the pad first to get hair off it, and then throw it in the washer, because it did get the mud out too!