Riding disciplines aside, a saddle pad is one of the most important pieces of tack. They protect our horse's backs, keep our expensive saddles clean, improve saddle fit (to an extent) and ensure an overall pleasant ride for horse and rider. Pads and blankets come in a whole range of colors and patterns for the fashion-conscious rider. There are numerous materials, sizes and shapes available depending on your riding style and preferences.
Whether you're buying your first saddle pad or your 50th, making an informed decision based on you and your horse's needs will ensure you invest in the right pad for your riding style.
Types of Saddle Pads
English Saddle Pads
English saddle pads tend to be thinner than Western saddle pads due to the light-weight padded nature of the English saddle itself. They come in various sizes based on the type of English saddle you use, the type of riding you do, and whether your particular horse requires a specialty pad due to conformation.
Western Saddle Pads
Just like English saddles pads, Western pads come in a large array of types. They tend to be much thicker and larger than English pads since the Western saddles are much heavier. There are various pad types for various Western riding styles as well as specialty pads for sway-backed and high-withered horses.
Other Saddle Pads
If you don't ride English or Western, don't worry! There are pads available for Australian saddles, Endurance saddles, Hybrid saddles, and anything else you can think of. These pads all vary in shape depending on the saddle you use. There usually aren't as many options for these specific pads but usually you can use an English or Western pad in place depending on your saddle. If you are unsure, contact an experienced saddle maker or the saddle company for help.
Saddle Pad Shapes
Square: Square or Rectangle pads are the most common style you will find. They are generally less expensive than other shapes, come in every material available and a variety of colors. These pads work best for your average horse with low-average withers and a straight back.
Round: Round saddle pads are similar to Square pads but have rounded corners. These pads come in all materials and work best with short-backed horses with low-average withers. Horses with short backs can get rubs on their hindquarters from the edges of a Square pad. Round pads are ideal for round-skirted saddles as well.
Cut-Out: Have a horse with high-withers? Normal pads tend to put too much pressure on these horse's withers which can be aggravating during a ride. Cut-out pads are just as they sound: A Square, Round or Contoured pad with a notch cut out of the pad where the withers are. You can find these pads in many different materials.
Contoured: Contoured pads are perfect for horses that are swaybacked or high-withered. These pads can in both Square and Round shapes. Unlike Cut-out pads, most contoured pads don't have a notch cut out of the pad.
Specialty: Some specialty pads include Orthospot, Built-Up and heavily padded Swayback pads. English saddles also have specialty pads called numnahs. These are used under the saddle with a Square pad underneath. The Square pad can either be your typical English Square pad or a baby pad. Baby pads are very thin square pads that are often used under the main pad to protect it from dirt and sweat.
Saddle Pad Materials
Fleece: Fleece is equivalent to the Square pad: it is a classic, common and gets the job done. Fleece offers padding, making it comfortable for the horse, and is great for wicking away sweat. Pads made from fleece are usually fairly inexpensive and can be found in any tack store.
Felt: Felt pads are made from wool. They are one of the best pads for strenuous work, especially in Western disciplines, since they are great at absorbing shock. Wool naturally helps release heat and sweat. Felt is great at reducing pressure points if you have a horse that is difficult to find the right fitting saddle for.
Neoprene: You may be familiar with Neoprene as a type of girth or cinch material. Neoprene, a rubber-like material, is also used as a material in saddle pads. They are commonly referred to as "waffle-weave" pads. If you have trouble with your saddle slipping around on your horse you may want to look into trying this material out.
Cotton: Cotton is generally used for English saddle pads. It is a thin material are doesn't offer much padding. These pads are a general purpose type pad and fine for basic riding.
Foam: Foam is a wonderful material if you work your horse hard under saddle and participate in events. Foam comes in two forms: open-cell and closed-cell. Both types works equally well but it is believed that open-cell is more breathable while closed-cell is more anti-bacterial. Foam pads form very well to the horse's back and can be very comfortable with the right saddle.
What Do You Use?
Feel free to share in the comments below what types of pads you love and why. If you enjoyed this post, please vote me up and I will return the favor.