The Skinny on English Saddle Pads

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by Steffany Dragon, MS

Quiz! Match each pad with its English discipline:


      Hunter          Dressage           Half Pad         Eventing       Jumper

(Answers at end of article!)

Shopping for saddle pads can be fun, daunting, satisfying or confusing! You may wonder how a pad, with the primary purposes of protecting the horse’s back and preserving the saddle could range anywhere from $15 to $400. Not to mention understanding the difference between a baby pad, a therapeutic bad or a corrective pad. In an attempt to make this otherwise complicated topic simple, we have highlighted the different purposes, materials and types of saddle pads to help you narrow down your choices to fit the needs of you and your horse! The rule of thumb to always remember is no matter how impressive the features of any particular saddle pad may be, it will never be a substitute for a properly fit saddle! 

Shape Matters 

Square pads – Rectangular, but usually curved in front to follow the shape of a saddle’s knee rolls. These are also referred to as all purpose pads

Shaped pads – Cut to follow the lines of a particular type of saddle, i.e. close contact/jumping, all-purpose, dressage.

Dressage pads – Rectangular, but longer at sides than an all-purpose square pad to accommodate the saddle’s longer flaps.

Half-pads – Fit under the saddle, but don’t extend down, allowing the rider more leg contact on the horse.

Baby pads – Lightweight to protect a thicker full or half-pad from sweat and dirt, although they can be used on their own. Easier to wash than bulkier pads.

Colors

 Colors can be a Fun and even important part of your hors’s wardrobe and branding! The patterns and colors of saddle pads range from traditional white show pads to wild and blingy pads matching leg wraps! You will find piping, diamond quilting and comfort features like a contoured spine in quality pads. The holiday season is not far off, and Equine Outfitters, LLC has matching accessories for horse and rider both classic and stylishly fun!  Imagine giving the equestrian in your life Matching “Snooty Fox” print saddle pad, polo wraps and bamboo material boot socks or a set of gifts in the most recognized pattern in the Equestrian world…”baker plaid”. These and other equine gifts, apparel, tack, accessories, and more are available through Equine Outfitters, LLC & we thank you for visiting!

Function

Saddle pads have been used and developed over the centuries to function in the following ways to: keep sweat and dirt off the underside of the saddle, protect the horse’s delicate back from friction,  wick moisture and heat from the horse’s back, dissipate weight to reduce the likelihood of pressure points, absorb shock, and disperse and reduce concussive forces to the backs of both horse and rider to alleviate pressure points and pain. We might as well add in to express ones sense of style because even the world of therapeutic pads is keeping up with fashion options.

Material
In this era, the choices of saddle pad material range from a cotton/polyester pad like those above to material sophisticatedly engineered with state of the art textiles, complete with clinical studies to back up their therapeutic claims. The most common materials and their benefits used in saddle pads are:

Natural Fibers (derived from plant or animal sources – single fibers or blends)

    • Cotton – Often combined with polyester fibers and/or quilted over polyfill stuffing, cotton is lightweight, highly absorbent, washable and inexpensive.
    • Wool/Sheepskin – Used under saddles for centuries, both materials have excellent moisture-wicking abilities – able to absorb up to six times their weight in liquid. They are also breathable, good at dissipating heat, grip and conform well to the back. A very exciting Wool fleece, sheepskin pad with Split Wither Relief technology and excellent spine clearance is the Majyk Equipe Ergonomics Correction Fleece Half Pad. It truly utilizes our favorite characteristics of wool, along with a design that allows for flexible and adaptable corrections through lightweight shim options made of impact protection material. Equine Outfitters, LLC will be carrying this product in the coming month!  

Synthetics (man-made materials used either on their own or combined with natural fibers)

    • Fleece – Made from polyester, fleece is long-lasting, easy to wash and less expensive than wool. Soft, it also molds well to the horse’s back. Its main drawback is that fleece’s shock-absorption qualities aren’t as good as wool. 
    • Neoprene – A grippy, waterproof rubber, neoprene is form-fitting and durable, a good shock absorber and easy to clean. It’s not suitable for long rides because it doesn’t breathe or absorb moisture. Neoprene waffle-weave or honeycomb patterns on the pad’s bottom are designed to aid in cooling.
    • Gel – The main attributes of gel pads are shock absorption, longevity and non-slip qualities. Gel and foam makeup a number of therapeutic pads that offer high levels of protection for horses with sore backs or that are exposed to frequent and sudden impacts like from jumping, etc. The Interfusion Gel Half Pad is one example. 
    • Foams – Open-cell foam is flexible, lightweight and offers excellent cushioning. When pressure is placed on the pad, air is pushed out of tiny air pockets (cells), returning when pressure is released. It’s also porous and absorbs water. Closed-cell foam is dense, molds to the horse’s back and has good grip and shock absorption. Unlike open-cell foam, air in the cells doesn’t escape, so pads maintain their shape during use. Memory foam (think mattresses and pillows) absorbs impact while shaping to the horse’s back. It is important that it returns to its original shape quickly, like the Shires of England Memory Foam Half Pad.  

The Importance of Saddle Fit FIRST

During my certification process as an Equine Sports Massage Therapist many moons ago, we were taught a very important concept that I believe Richard Markell, DVM best articulates “A saddle pad is not going to make up for an incorrectly-fitting saddle. A therapeutic pad can be an important tool to managing a problem. The key to selecting saddle pads is pressure, pressure, pressure. Ask yourself if you’re eliminating pressure or adding to it.” Before rushing out to purchase a pad to cure a problem, I highly recommend checking your equipment and consulting a recognized saddle fitter. In general, if your saddle fits the horse properly, you want a thin pad because you don’t want to change the fit. 

Correctional and Therapeutic pads can be of great help to horse and rider and we will be discussing the benefits of some of these options. There are cases where you might be trying to fit multiple horses as best you can with the same saddle, or you may be using a non-ideal fit until you can find a suitable saddle for you and the horse! In addition, if you are changing your horse’s exercise program or nutritional status, it is helpful to have an adjustable pad that may dissipate pressure according to the horse’s development. So let’s get down to discussing some available options on the market right now.

Corrective Saddle Pads come in various forms to accommodate a horse’s conformation or to temporarily correct an imperfect saddle fit. They may be cut back for high withers, built higher in either front or rear, or even half pads with removable shims to adjust to a horse’s changing topline. Many of the therapeutic pads on the market today come with optional features allowing them to act simultaneously as corrective pads. We have also noticed that manufacturers have paid attention to the equestrians’ plea for easier washing options for these special materials. 

Thinline® Pads
I find this brand appealing because as the name implies…they offer effective therapeutic benefits while remaining thin enough to maintain the corrective saddle fit you were hopefully diligent to achieve! Each Thinline® pad contains a proprietary textile and technology. It is an open cell foam but in a honeycomb matrix using a technique that gives the pad the suppleness to stretch and flex. The idea is to provide relief at any pressure point and dispersing weight, impact and heat laterally without the pad moving. This lateral disbursement is key to their science, which boasts a 95% shock absorption rate that spreads outside to side rather than into the rider’s or horse’s spine. They recommend replacing every 7-9 years. From the Ultra Thinline® Pad to a combination correction and therapeutic pad in their Thinline® Trifecta Half Pad, this company has all basis covered. In addition, they offer quality products for the rider’s health and comfort including a Thinline® Yoga mat! We encourage you to browse our Thinline® Product Line and take advantage of our sales.

Back on Track® products have made a name for themselves through products that promote protection, health, wellness and recovery while reducing injury risks in their collection of human, equine, and canine gear. They describe their saddle pad textile as a synergy of ancient Chinese experience and modern scientific textile technology that employs the benefits of long wave infrared energy that works to relieve the back through increased circulation and suppleness. Our collection of Back on Track® products includes polo wraps, hock boots and more!

“Everything has been excellent, by using the Back on Track leg wraps. We do a better job of the horse’s legs and we’ve stopped using poultice so it cuts down on the problem of drying out the legs and skin irritation. When using the Back on Track blankets, we’ve noticed a great difference in the horses’ backs. We can go longer between the chiropractic treatments. This is a wonderful product that keeps our horses in great shape.”

– McLain Ward, Olympic rider: gold team medalist.

Last but not least, our final example in the therapeutic/correction pad category just might become a new favorite. In the world of smart technology ie. Smart phones and the like, Eco Gold® claims that they offer the smartest and hardest working pads in the industry. Eco Gold® is actually an equestrian textile engineering company that offers pads containing a high resilient foam, a cooling technology, the ability to adjust the pad to the desired thickness and falls under the corrective pad category with pockets for shim inserts. The Dressage, Cross Country, Jumper and All Purpose pads each offer important features for their respective disciplines while maintaining their proprietary therapeutic technology. Just to give you a quick peak of their pad (below) you will see they offer style along with their machine washable pads. This Eco Gold® Jumper pad is on sale for $164.

 

Keeping your saddle pad clean when made of wool, sheepskin or special materials can be a challenge. This is a nice product that you put directly in your washing machine specifically for most saddle pad and blanket fabrics:

A well-fitted saddle pad should:

  • Never place pressure on the spine or withers.
  • Match the contours of the horse’s back and saddle with one-two inches of pad extending beyond the saddle edges.
  • Not alter the pressure distribution or balance of the rider or saddle.
  • Not extend past the horse’s 18th rib (the section of the back with no anatomical support), or forward onto the shoulders. 
  • Check fit often!

Answers: A. Dressage B. Eventing C. Jumper D. Hunter E. Half pad