Choosing the correct saddle pad is an important step in promoting your horse’s comfort and soundness for riding, almost as important as choosing a well-fitting saddle! In this article, we will discuss various pad options for English saddles. It is important first to make sure your saddle fits correctly; no amount of padding can fix a saddle that just doesn’t fit. For a saddle that does fit, choosing the proper pad can enhance your horse’s and your own comfort.
A Quilted Pad
Many riders opt for a thin, cotton quilt pad in a square or fitted shape to help wick away moisture and keep the underside of the saddle clean. These pads do not offer much in the way of cushioning or shock absorption. They are frequently used under a half pad or therapeutic pad, discussed below.
A Fleece Pad/Half Pad
Natural sheepskin pads provide deep cushion and shock absorption, and are a popular choice for thin-skinned sensitive horses such as thoroughbreds. Some riders choose synthetic fleece for the ease of machine washing but it does not hold its loft as well as natural fleece and is not breathable. A white, shaped fleece pad is the standard tack for showing hunters.
A Correction Pad
These pads are built higher in either the front or rear to accommodate a horse’s conformation or poor saddle fit. They help to balance the saddle correctly to alleviate pressure points on the horse’s back. Some correction pads come in the shape of a half pad with removable shims' these allow you to adjust the pad to multiple horses or a horse’s developing topline.
A Therapeutic Pad
There are dozens of options for therapeutic saddle pads on the market, with wide-ranging claims of how they can help your horse. Remember, correct saddle fit is paramount. That being said, therapeutic saddle pads can be hugely beneficial to your horse. Gel and foam pads help to alleviate pressure and absorb shock, reducing concussive forces to both the horse’s and rider’s backs. A saddle pad infused with ceramic fibers has been shown to increase circulation to the horse’s back which promotes healing of soft tissues and reduces muscle soreness. Choosing a therapeutic pad in conjunction with a correctly-fitting saddle can greatly alleviate muscular soreness for horses used for competition and strenuous riding.
When choosing a saddle pad for your horse, take into account your horse’s activity level, your chosen discipline, and their individual conformation and characteristics. For example, a high-withered, thin-skinned thoroughbred versus a round, draft type. Think about your needs as a rider too. I, for example, have arthritis in my spine. I am much more comfortable using a foam pad under my saddle to absorb some concussion. Talk to friends in your barn to see what they like and try new types of pads. Find what works best for you and your horse.