In the last few years, gel pads have gone from being a trend to a must-have in every equestrian’s tack arsenal. This doesn’t come as a surprise as saddle pads provide extra lining to conform with your animal’s spine to prevent shock and impact.
A high-grade and quality saddle pad doesn’t only consider your horse’s comfort, it prioritizes health as well, so you are able to spend as many years as possible with your partner-in-crime. In summary, it ensures your horse is well-taken care of without sacrificing incredible performance.
To help you learn more about this riding staple, we’ve come up with a comprehensive manual that you can use as a guide from shopping to fitting.
In this article, we will talk about:
- Quick Recap: What is a saddle pad?
- Quick Recap: Benefits of using a saddle pad
- Helpful tips for proper sizing
- How to incorporate saddle pads for riding
- Features every saddle pad should have
- What to avoid when buying saddle pads
- Easy clean-up and maintenance hacks
Quick Recap: What is a saddle pad?
Before we go into the details, let’s review what a saddle pad is and what it does. In a nutshell, it is a form of lining placed under the saddle to deflect shock, resist twisting forces, and helps distribute weight on the back of your horse properly.
Every horse is built differently, but no matter their structure, it’s vital that they have proper back support with a saddle pad. When it comes to taking care of horses, the old saying—“an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”—applies completely. It is much easier to stop something from happening rather than having to repair injuries later on.
Quick Recap: Benefits of using a saddle pad
If we’re going to be specific, you can technically use a saddle alone as tack without a pad and you will still be able to go on satisfactory rides. The question is—why would you settle for a mediocre performance when you can have unforgettable adventures? It’s best you use a saddle and a saddle pad together for the most optimal horseriding experience.
You might be thinking, “What other benefits can I get from using a saddle pad?” Well, here are just a few things that may work to your advantage when you start using one:
- Great for cold weather/winter (offers extra heat)
- Protects the horse’s spine from irreversible damage
- Absorbs rider’s weight properly
- Comfortable for longer rides on uneven trails
- Provides support for performing intensive jumping tricks
- Horses get into a better emotional state for races as they aren’t in constant pain
Helpful tips for proper sizing
Beginner or pro, most equestrians know that high-grade riding tack doesn’t come cheap. This is why you want to make sure that you’re able to choose the right one when you decide to make an investment.
When it comes to saddle pads, proper sizing is everything. They are measured by their length and width. Check out this quick guide on how you can get accurate sizing for your horse:
Start by measuring your saddle. You may ask your saddle fitter or your trainer to help you get the precise measurements if you’re having trouble doing it yourself.
- To measure a Western saddle’s seat size, run your measuring tape from the back of the swell (the top of the gullet) until it reaches the stitching on the cantle binder.
- To measure an English saddle’s seat size, run your measuring tape from the pommel button until it reaches the middle of the cantle.
How to incorporate saddle pads for riding
Have you ever wondered how to properly use a gel pad under the saddle? You can do it in just a few simple steps. Trust us when we say it’s not as hard as you think!
Before you put on anything on your animal, lay down the saddle pad first. You would know which part should go at the front as it would usually have the strap for the girth to go into and to attach to the gullet of the saddle. It should come up just to the top of its withers, regardless of shape.
After that, you may continue with your usual riding tack—add your saddle, horse boots, and you’re good to go! While adding extra padding may not seem like a lot in the present, you will see its benefits in the long run as you are able to avoid slipping, bridging, soreness, and unnecessary dents.
Features every saddle pad should have
Any saddle pad will work for a normal-withered horse so long as one follows sizing guidelines and they consider the riding discipline. However, as we’ve said, not all horses are the same.
For example, half pads are great for a high-withered horse as they can support or correct their back problems while still serving their other important purposes such as wicking moisture and providing extra protection.
As a general rule, here are some tips to take note of when picking out a saddle pad for your loyal steed:
- Reliable Back Support - It should be able to properly cushion between the horse’s back and saddle.
- Impact Protection - It should be able to even out the riding seat for balance and even pressure distribution.
- Room for Muscle Development - Like riders, horses’ bodies change over time so your gear should be able to grow with you through the years.
- Unique Gel Air-Flow Channels - Be it summer or winter, you need to look for a pad that you can use all year round.
What to avoid when buying saddle pads
There are a ton of saddle pads available in the market with prices that seem too good to be true. As tempting as it is to go for these, you should be wary that when paired with an ill-fitting saddle, poor-quality saddle pads may result to:
- Excessive heat during warmer weather/summer (may affect horse’s endurance)
- Skin irritation, rashes, and red nubs from poor material
- Discomfort for horses or cause muscle pain
- May worsen uneven pressure distribution
If the saddle pad doesn’t have the basic features listed above, you might want to pass on that sweet deal.
Easy clean-up and maintenance hacks
Just like with every purchase you make, especially tack, you want to get bang for your buck when investing in premium items. Here are some of the things you can do to keep your gel pads in mint condition for a long time:
- Check the cleaning instructions that come with your saddle pad and follow them accordingly. Use a mild detergent, and run it on a gentle cycle. You can also hand wash it yourself if you don’t have a washing machine.
- Never leave your saddle pads to dry in the sun or in the dryer. Let it air dry under the shade (preferably someplace where it won’t collect dust) or in your tack trunk if you have one.
- Make sure to hang your saddle pad over a rack so you can maintain its shape. Don’t dry it over its back completely.
Did you learn a thing or two from our crash course on saddle pads? We hope so. Think about it this way: Similar to the rider, the horse undergoes drastic changes in its lifetime, too. Having the right saddle pad can help them live their best riding life for as long as possible.