Forget matchy-matchy - choosing a saddle pad is a serious business!
A saddle pad is designed to cushion the horse's back against the pressure of the saddle and the rider's weight... but there are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a saddle pad for your horse.
Firstly, your saddle should be well fitted to your horse. A great saddle pad should cushion the saddle but should not change the saddle's balance or add pressure - saddle pads will not compensate for a bad saddle fit, so make sure you begin with the services of a top saddle fitter.
When your horse has a great fitting saddle, a saddle pad should be fairly slim, and not interfere with the saddle's fit. Now it's time to think about the things you want in a saddle pad.
Ideally a saddle pad will:
- cushion your horse's back, and help prevent rubbing
- protect your saddle from sweat stains and dirt
- help keep the horse's back from getting too hot (look for moisture wicking and/or cool breathable materials)
- and look great with your horse's colour and your tack!
Choose your saddle pad cut
What type of riding will you be doing?
If you use a jump saddle, look at jump saddle pads - they are cut further forward like jump saddles, and cover less of the horse's sides to help them stay cool.
For a dressage saddle, you will need a larger, more square cut saddle pad - so have a look at dressage pads. Likewise, a GP saddle will be best with a more generous cut saddle pad.
Most people have a few more expensive saddle pads that they save for competition days, and some simpler pads for training and trails.
Finding the right saddle pad size
How big is your horse, and your saddle?
You can take into account your horse's size, and saddle size. Normally a hack will use a Full or Large pad and a pony will use Pony or Small/Medium. The saddle pad should be around 2 inches longer than you saddle so that it can poke out beyond your saddle by around an inch front and back to allow for some movement. If a saddle blanket slips under the saddle or is too small, it can cause rubbing and pressure where the edges sit.
As pads can vary by several inches from brand to brand and style to style, it’s a good idea to take a note of the measurements of the saddle pad that fits your horse and your saddle well, so you’ll have the information handy next time you purchase a saddle pad.
What about your horse's shape?
The right saddle pad should match the contours of your horse's back, and sit smoothly under the shape of your saddle. If your horse has a high wither look for a higher front on your saddle pad, or if they are a wide backed horse look for room at the front of the pad for their shoulders.
Saddle pads should not create pressure on the spine along the back or withers so if your saddle pad sits down on your horse's spine, look for one with a higher cut at the front. A higher cut often helps the pad to sit smoother under the saddle too, and many riders will pull the pad up into the gullet before girthing up to ensure a clear channel.
Remember that (just like us) horses tend to change shape a little with the seasons, gaining weight in spring and losing it in winter, as well as bulking up with muscle building exercise or slimming down with endurance or heavy exertion levels. Be aware of your horses body changing.
Half pads and half pads with shims can be useful for hard to fit horses and as a temporary solution. Shims are great for raising the saddle at the front or back as needed but if the fit is not great they will create pressure points. Don't add shims or half pads unless your saddle fitter says they are needed. Ask them to explain why you need them, how they will help, and which type to use.
If you see rubbed/bald spots, uneven sweat patterns, patches of white fur, areas of compressed fur or dry spots, get your saddle fit checked and ask your fitter about suitable saddle pads.
Choosing saddle pad material
Your saddle pad should always be moisture wicking and breathable. The older style thick foam pads heat the horses back and make them hot and uncomfortable. Synthetic fabrics also trap heat, and hold wetness against their skin.
Just like our clothing, saddle pad fabric and fills have evolved to include moisture wicking quick dry fabrics and breathable fibres like bamboo, while still offering impact absorption properties. Sheepskin and cotton are also both good fabrics to help saddle pads to retain moisture wicking qualities.
Sheepskin pads are moisture wicking, disperse heat and the wool natural adapts to the horses back well - and they provide extra shock absorbtion.
Sometimes an extra pad will be recommended for if your horse has changed shape or will benefit from extra impact absorption.
Gel pads help absorb and disperse the weight and impact of the rider on the horses back. They are generally thin and last well. Do be aware that they wont disperse heat as well as a normal pad. Memory foam acts in a similar way but may compress over time.
And, just like people, some horses skin will react to certain types of pads so if you see welts, rashes or raised bumps, try a different style and fabric.
Another thing to watch for is sensitivity when shedding or the difference a bulky winter coat makes to how a saddle pad sits.
Bigger is not always better
Many horse riders love their saddle pads - but often, less is more! Here are a few things to bear in mind.
If your saddle doesn't fit well, a saddle pad that is extra thick, has shims, raisers or extra padding, OR is thin, can make things worse.
If your saddle fits perfectly, adding the wrong saddle pad can cause issues and alter how the saddle sits.
A bulky saddle blanket can press on the spine and nerves along the spine - and even restrict the horse's back and shoulder muscles. If your saddle pad presses on a horse's musculature it will restrict their muscle development in those areas.
One time an evenly thick pad can help is if a horse has lost weight due to winter, illness or lack of work and you want to 'fill out' the space between their back and the saddle - but again, do get your saddle fitter's advice first.
In general, unless recommended by your saddle fitter, a slim saddle pad with no extra padding is safest.
Extra features you may like
We do like a reinforced girth area to protect from uneven wear under the rider's leg, and sometimes a silicone area or silicone pad can help stablise saddles on tricky to fit horses.
And of course colour is a very personal choice - some horse riders prefer bright and blingy, others go for subtle hues that tone with their tack and their horse. For riding on roads you may go for brighter shades, and for shows maybe you will look for classic navy, white or burgundy.
Regardless of your preference we will have something you love - shop saddle pads now.
Tips for saddle blanket care
Avoid placing your pad on sawdust hay or dirt that may stick. Shake or brush them clean as needed, and be sure that nothing (built up sweat, dirt, fragments of hay etc) is going to aggravate your horse's back. Hang underside up after rides to allow faster drying.
Wash with normal detergent and hang straight to dry with the underside up to avoid fading or distortion of the pad.
A good saddle pad reduces pressure points and distributes heat from under the saddle. They prevent chafing and protect your saddle from grime. If you need any advice at all, let us know - otherwise you can shop saddle pads here.