Saddle pads come in a variety of shapes, colors, sizes and styles. They are available at a range of prices and are claimed to solve saddle fit issues, alleviate back pain and protect horses from injury. Several types of saddle pad materials are used including open and closed cell foams, synthetic felts, needled felts, pressed industrial felts, woven blankets, and gel technology bladders.
A good saddle pad should have a nonslip section to prevent saddle movement and keep it in place. It should be breathable to help reduce heat and sweating. Some have long straps to keep it in place at the girth area to prevent slipping and are made to absorb shock and offer cushioning for the horse’s back. The type of fabric and padding should be suited to the rider’s discipline, horse and saddle. The pad should be able to be washed in cold water with mild soap and hung to dry. Some are embroidered with the horse’s name or logo to add a personal touch.
Almost every tack catalog today has pages of saddle pads in a wide variety of colors, shapes, fabrics and features. They are offered in both English and Western styles in jumper, dressage or eventing styles. Some are designed with an opening for the high wither, others are shaped to compensate for lordosis or swayback and some are crafted with gel inserts or memory foam for extra comfort and support.
Most modern saddle pads are breathable and made with wool, a natural material that is highly moisture-absorbing and has a cooling effect on the horse’s back. Some are infused with a special coating that softly reflects the horse’s own body heat and returns it to the horse in the form of infrared heat, improving circulation in the topline and spine muscles. This is an excellent way to keep these muscles loose and flexible while riding and training, which helps the horse move more efficiently.
Some saddle pads are made of a synthetic fabric that wicks away moisture and is very durable. These are more economical than wool and can be machine washed, but they don’t breathe as well and can trap heat, which can cause discomfort in the horse. Some are also padded with cotton and other moisture-absorbing materials to help reduce friction and improve comfort.
Impact Gel saddle pads use a special material that absorbs energy at the point of impact, preventing pressure points and gall spots from developing. This is especially important for fit competition horses that are likely to experience a lot of impact during practice and racing.
Any saddle pad can help with saddle fit, alleviate discomfort and improve the horse’s overall performance, but remember that a properly fitting saddle is always the first step. If a saddle is too large, it will change the horse’s balance and may even interfere with the proper development of the back muscles. A poor-fitting saddle alters blood flow, increases muscle tension and inhibits spinal flexibility, causing the horse to develop back muscles in unnatural ways.