WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #173
ALL ABOUT SADDLE PADS
From the Summer 2012 PAINT HORSE CONNECTION
Browse through any tack catalog or stroll through a sad1 dle
shop, and you'll notice the vast selection of saddle pads on the
market today. Gone are the days of mindlessly tucking a thin
woven blanket under your saddle - today's choices span the gamut
of specialization, with enough design and construction choices to
make your head spin. With a myriad of available options,
considering components like riding discipline, pad function and
fit are just a few ways to start narrowing down the field.
Classic Equine Chief of Operations Craig Bray says:
"It is very important to select the right saddle pad for your
horse. Every discipline is different, and every function is
different," he said. "I think the closer contact you can have
with your horse, the better. Your goal should be to have the
least pad possible for your saddle."
Four broad categories - discipline and shape, materials,
conformation challenges and actual fit - can help you find the
saddle pad that best fits the needs of you and your Paint. Read
on to learn more about each.
Discipline and Shape
Think about the style of riding you do-that will be the first
step to narrow down the available selection of saddle pads.
Obviously, Western and English riding features different pad
styles, but choices can vary even within those broad disciplines.
Square saddle pads designed for dressage saddles, for instance,
drape further down the horse's barreldue to the longer flaps
found on those saddles - than allpurpose square pads, which are
designed for all-purpose and close-contact English saddles. For
Western riding, consider the length and shape of your saddle's
"Reining saddles, cutting saddles and team roping saddles are
often longer-skirted, so you need a longer pad that will extend
past the skirt of the saddle," Craig said. "Whereas with a barrel
saddle that has a smaller, rounded skirt, you could use a shorter
pad or a rounded pad to fit the rounded skirt."
Also think about the specific equestrian sport in which you'll be
competing and the demands it puts on your horse, Craig says.
A roping horse might need a pad designed for extreme shock
absorption, due to the extra pressure exerted on the front of the
saddle by the steer.
Riders sometimes cover a favorite everyday work pad with a
showier wool blanket for the show ring.
Common pad shapes include:
Western Pad Shapes
* Straight/Square - a traditionai saddle-pad shape used in both
work and show blanket designs.
* Round - usually used on saddles with rounded skirts or horses
with short backs; often used by speed-event riders.
English Pad Shapes
* Contoured - a shaped pad that follows the lines of a
traditional English saddle; most often used by hunt-seat riders
rather than dressage riders
* Square - a larger, rectangular pad shape preferred for dressage
* Half - a contoured design about half the size of a tradi tional
contoured pad; designed to allow closer contact of the rider's
legs with minimal padding between the saddle flap and the horse's
* Competition Number - similar to a contoured pad in its shape
around most of the saddle, it has a clear plastic pocket to the
rear of the flap on each side, in which an exhibitor's number can
If the show ring's your thing, also consider popular saddlepad
styles for your discipline. Attending a major show in your chosen
event-or looking at photos from the event onlinewill help
identify trends you might want to consider.
Modern saddles pads are constructed from a wide array of
materials, and each has its own benefits. Points to consider
include amount of padding and compression; ease of cleaning;
temperature tendencies; and longevity. Your horse's needs and
personal preference will likely narrow the field. Common
* Wool Fleece-also includes felt, which is layers of compressed
* Foam-options include open cell and closed cell ò Gel
* Synthetic Fleece
"At Classic Equine, we make so many different pads because there
are so many different needs," Craig said. "I'm a huge fan of felt
fiber because it sits solid against the horse but it also
provides shock absorption. We have pads with closed cell foam
that are great for trainers and colt breakers-the pads does not
absorb sweat, and is antifungal and antibacterial. At the same
time, a lot of the show people like fleece-bottom pads because
their horses' hair and skin are so fine - they like that soft
fleece against their horses' backs."
Next, consider your horse's unique structure, especially over his
topline. Horses with pronounced withers might need a different
style of saddle pad than a horse with mutton, or flat, withers
and broad shoulders. Points to consider include wither, shoulder
and spine structure along with muscle development throughout the
* Contour - shaped to provide relief to horses' withers.
* Therapeutic - pads vary in design but often feature shims or
inserts to allow a semi-custom fit; others are crafted of
therapeutic material, like gel.
* Cutback - a removed section near the withers provides relief to
* Swayback - extra padding in the center helps provide even
contact along the back; designed for swayback horses or those
with a "dip" along their backs.
A saddle pad can help customize a saddle's fit to your horse's
unique musculature and structure, Craig says.
Products like Classic Equine's ESP Contour Pad feature memory
foam designed to fill in voids in contact between the saddle and
the horse's back. Classic's BioFit Correction Pad has a wedge
designed to fill in gaps in contact behind the horse's shoulders
- useful for horses with muscle atrophy, high withers or
But how do you know if your horse needs a special design? First,
evaluate your saddle and its fit on your horse's back without a
saddle pad, Craig says. You're looking for consistent contact
between your saddle and the horse's back, without pressure
points-like those caused behind the withers when a saddle is too
wide and low. Bridging through the middle of the saddle, gapping
under the cantle and front-toback movement should also be
"You really don't want rocking back and forth from the saddle
horn to the cantle-if it's rocking, there's a pressure point
that's hitting the horse's back," Craig said. "You want it to sit
'dead' - with a 'locked-in-place' feeling - so the saddle doesn't
shift or move in any position. The more a saddle slides and
shifts, the less secure you feel as a rider and the more likely
the horse will become sore."
So despite evaluating different types of saddles pads on the
market today, nothing quite compares to actually testing them
with your horse and tack. Before committing to a saddle pad,
consider borrowing different saddle-pad styles and brands from
friends, saddling up and seeing how they fit your unique
With saddle and pad in place, Craig says to check how secure the
combination is on your horse-front-to-back movement indicates
poor fit. If you're unsure about evaluating saddle-pad fit, ask
an experienced equestrian professional for guidance.
Horses' musculature constantly changes, so Craig suggests
incorporating a quick evaluation of saddle-and-pad fit into your
daily routine and making changes as needed.
No matter what saddle pad you decide to purchase for your Paint,
fit and quality are paramount.
"Go with quality products, first of all," Craig said. "Make sure
your pad is constructed from quality raw materials. And again,
there's such a difference between horses, it's almost impossible
to say there's a 'perfect' pad. Evaluate every horse on his own
and determine what his needs are."
Jessica Hein is managing editor of Paint Horse Connection. To
comment on this article, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
HORSE CONNECTION - SUMMER 2012