Saddle pads are an essential part of horse riding, and a wide variety of types are available to suit different types of riders. From shaped and contoured pads to hefty square pads, they vary in design, materials, and purpose. In this article, we explore the different saddle pad types available on the market.
- Western and English saddle pads are designed for riders engaged in different types of riding.
- English pads are typically thinner and more contoured, and Western pads are thicker with more cushioning.
- Shaped pads are popular for riders needing a thin pad that creates a closer feel with the horse, while square options are generally preferred by those seeking thicker support.
- Specialty pads, like riser pads and half pads, and saddle shims (foam inserts) can help correct saddle fit and conformation problems and provide extra protection and cushioning.
- Many materials are used to make saddle pads, but cotton, wool, sheepskin, and fleece are the most popular types.
Choosing the Right Saddle Pad
The right saddle pad for you and your horse depends on a variety of factors, including the style of riding you do, the fit and size of your saddle, the anatomy of the horse, and the kinds of materials you prefer.
We discuss a few considerations for choosing a good saddle pad below.
Saddle Pad Purpose
Many horse owners focus heavily on the significance of a good saddle but may overlook the importance of a good saddle pad. Saddle pads are not just for looks; they serve several essential functions. A saddle pad cushions the horse’s back and helps evenly distribute the rider’s weight. They also protect the saddle from wear and tear, as well as dirt and sweat.
Depending on the type of riding you do, some pads may be more suitable than others. For example, if you’re a hunter jumper, you may want a non-slip pad designed to reduce shock. On the other hand, if you use Western gear, it’s often wise to opt for a thicker pad to accommodate the more rigid saddle tree.
Consider your purpose before choosing the right pad for your horse.
The Saddle Fit
Good saddle fit is vital to a good riding experience. And while a saddle pad can’t perform miracles when it comes to fixing a poor saddle fit, the right pad can help immensely, especially when used with saddle-fitting shims.
If you have saddle fitting issues, the right pad–or a pad with saddle shims–may help. Shims are foam inserts or gel inserts that can be slipped into the saddle pad. The shim can be layered and trimmed to relieve pressure points and balance the saddle comfortably on the horse’s back.
Saddle shims are easy to use with shimmable saddle pads and can address problems like high withers, kissing spine (a condition of the vertebrae of the horse’s spine), and hollow or sway backs. Saddle shims can also fix rider balance issues and saddle pad slippage.
To guarantee your saddle fits perfectly and your saddle pad fit is correct, you can also get your horse professionally fitted by an experienced saddler. This helps prevent any long-term damage or discomfort to your horse.
Saddle Pad Materials
Saddle pads come in various materials, from natural fibers to synthetic materials. Cotton, wool, and sheepskin pads are popular choices for English saddle pads, while synthetic fleece and neoprene pads or wool felt pads are often popular amongst Western riders.
Other common pad types include gel pads and foam pads, which are generally designed for a secure fit, breathability, and targeted support.
Synthetic Material Vs. Natural Material
Many saddle pads include multiple materials and combine natural and synthetic materials to get the best effect. For example, ThinLine pads–whether cotton, sheepskin, wool felt pads, or another material–all include ThinLine. ThinLine is a non-slip, open-cell foam that breathes well and absorbs shock readily.
ThinLine safeguards both the horse’s and rider’s spines, preventing sore backs, and it’s endorsed by spinal surgeons, veterinarians, and master saddlers. By combining ThinLine technology with other materials, we can create unique saddle pads that meet the needs of a wide range of horses and riders.
Different saddle pad materials supply different levels of cushioning and protection, so selecting the right material for your horse and purpose is important.
Keep your horse’s body temperature and the climate in mind when selecting a saddle pad; for instance, if your horse is prone to overheating, then you will want to look for materials that wick away moisture and allow air to circulate, especially if you are going on long rides outdoors.
Breathable materials, like ThinLine, can help to keep your horse comfortable on hot days, while waterproof materials are ideal for riding in wet weather.
Saddle Pad Shapes
We discuss different saddle pad designs and provide helpful tips for selecting the right one below.
Square or rectangular saddle pads are a common type of Western saddle pad. These saddle pads have thick cushioning for comfort and shock reduction. However, competitive rectangular or square pads will still allow for close contact with the horse.
Square pads are available in quilted, plain, or solid color designs and come in assorted sizes and materials. They are often all-purpose pads that are used for a variety of disciplines. However, some are shaped to accommodate the withers or include foam or gel inserts for customization.
Contoured or Shaped Pads
Contoured and shaped pads provide a more customized fit for your horse’s back. These saddle pads are often made from lightweight materials like fleece or cotton and provide shock-absorbing protection.
To enhance comfort and minimize bulk, contoured pads fit snugly against your saddle – following the shape of the saddle and the horse’s back and withers. This typically leaves only a few inches of the pad around the edges of the saddle.
Shaped saddle pads are traditionally used in English riding disciplines, such as dressage and show jumping.
Custom and Specialty Saddle Pads
A custom-made saddle pad may be necessary for horses with high withers or other anatomical issues. It is also possible to purchase a specialty saddle pad for a particular use or circumstance or a therapeutic pad for extra cushioning.
Common specialty pads include:
Half pads can help with saddle fit issues, heat build-up during riding sessions, and even trauma. Although English half pads are usually used along with full saddle pads, take caution when adding a half pad, as too much bulk can affect the overall fit and comfort of the saddle.
A riser pad is ideal for horses with high withers or back problems and is a lightweight pad that offers extra support. It can also fix the issue of a slanted saddle. Riser pads are engineered to reduce shock and increase support by elevating your saddle away from the horse’s spine, either in front or behind, depending on style.
If you use a riser pad, be sure not to overcorrect. When a saddle sits too far forward or backward, it can cause painful pressure points.
Endurance Saddle Pads
Endurance riders often spend hours in the saddle and need a durable endurance saddle pad that will tolerate their journeys. Endurance saddle pads are commonly constructed from materials that wick away moisture, such as wool or synthetic fibers, and include extra cushioning for comfort during long rides.
While you want them thick enough for comfort, they should also be light so as not to weigh the horse down.
Gel saddle pads are becoming increasingly popular due to their chafe-free comfort and protection. Well-fitting gel pads absorb shock and distribute pressure evenly over the horse’s back.
Though not particularly stylish in many cases, these pads are ideal for slipping beneath your saddle for stabilization and support. When well-constructed, gel pads maintain resiliency over time and even under extreme temperatures, making them durable.
Keeping your saddle pad in place may be more challenging if your horse has a lot of body fat or flat or high withers. A good anti-slip pad can reduce slippage, even when the horse turns or stops abruptly.
Gel and neoprene pads are known for their anti-slip properties, but any pad material can be anti-slip with design adjustments. Anti-slip pads are great for competitive riders or riders who want a more stable riding experience.
Trail Riding Pads
These types of saddle pads are typically made with materials that breathe well and dry quickly. They also offer optimal shock support and cushioning for extended treks.
Trail riding pads frequently come with distinctive features like extra-long girth straps, reflective strips for safety in low-light conditions, and even pockets to store small items.
English Saddle Pads for Specific Disciplines
Most English riders prefer shaped or contoured English saddle pads that closely follow the shape of the horse’s back to help maintain a close feel with the horse. However, English riders use different English saddle pads and saddles depending on their discipline.
Common disciplines that require a specific English saddle pad include:
Dressage riders typically prefer a thin Dressage pad that fits closely to the Dressage saddle, with just enough cushioning for shock absorption and plenty of contact with the horse. Dressage is a beautiful sport, so riders often look for an attractive and elegant pad.
Dressage saddle pads may include stitching, quilting, and a variety of other designs for a fashionable appearance.
Jumpers typically opt for thinner and lighter pads that pair with jumping saddles, allowing the rider to be closer to the horse and move freely.
Jumpers often use a shaped pad with an extra layer of foam or gel cushioning to provide the horse and rider with more protection from shock.
Western Saddle Pads
Western saddles are typically heavier and broader than English saddles, so they require a distinct pad type. Western saddle pads are usually made with thicker and more shock-absorbing materials, such as felt or fleece, to provide ample cushioning for the horse.
While some Western pads are custom-shaped pads, most are square or rectangular.
Common disciplines that require a specific Western pad include:
Barrel racing requires a lighter weight pad than some other Western disciplines due to the speed of maneuvers. Barrel racers also need pads that offer the cushioning and shock absorption necessary to keep the horse comfortable during runs.
It’s also essential to have a secure, well-fitting pad that won’t slip.
For the precision required in cutting, a close-contact pad is typically used. This type of pad gives the rider a close feel for the horse while also giving the horse plenty of cushioning.
Many competitive Western sports also feature brightly colored or patterned saddle pads to match the rider’s attire and show off their style.
FAQs About Saddle Pad Types
If you’re in the market for a new saddle pad, you probably have a lot of questions. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about buying and maintaining saddle pads.
What Happens If a Saddle Pad Doesn’t Fit?
If the saddle pad is too small, it won’t provide your horse enough support or protection. If the pad is too big, it may create additional bulk and cause the saddle to be unstable.
Use a pad specifically designed for your horse’s conformation and size to ensure the best fit. Also, use the pad appropriately and for the proper discipline.
How Do You Keep Saddle Pads in Good Shape?
Always check the specific saddle pad’s cleaning and care instructions, but in most cases, the pad can be wiped down with a cloth or brush and dried after each use. Also, brush away dirt and debris that may have accumulated on the pad.
If you need to deep clean your saddle pad, hand wash it with a mild soap, like Eucalan. Avoid machine washing, as this may damage the fabric or foam padding.
Do You Always Need a Saddle Pad?
Yes, you should always use a saddle pad to cushion and protect your horse’s back. A horse ridden without a saddle pad may develop sore spots or even back injuries over time. The saddle may also slip or sustain damage, causing the rider to be unsafe.
Saddle pads offer all sorts of benefits for both riders and horses, so it’s essential to choose the right one for your needs.
How Often Should I Replace My Saddle Pad?
This depends on many factors, such as the type of saddle pad and how often it is used. Generally speaking, a well-made and well-cared-for saddle pad can last many years.
If your saddle pad shows signs of wear and tear, such as fraying, fading, or deterioration of the foam, it might be time to buy a new one. Pay close attention to your saddle pad and replace it when it doesn’t seem to perform well or appears in poor shape.
Riding in Comfort with the Perfect Saddle Pad
When it comes to performance, the perfect saddle pad can make all the difference. Whether you’re looking for an English or Western-style pad, contoured or specialty types, many saddle pads deliver optimal cushioning and shock absorption while offering a unique look and feel.
Finding the right one for your horse is key to assuring their safety and your satisfaction when out on rides together. But fortunately, many wonderful pads are available on the market.
By understanding each type of saddle pad’s purpose, design, features, and materials, you are sure to find something that fits both your and your horse’s needs.