If you’ve been riding for a while, saddle pads won’t be new to you! You’d probably know that with the proper one, your horse’s physical health will benefit in the long run. So, how do you know which one to choose for your four-legged friend? If you’re skeptical about which saddle pad you should invest in, then you’ve come to the right place.
Read on to help you choose the best saddle pad for your horse!
In this article, we will talk about:
- What Is A Saddle Pad?
- Types of Saddle Pads
- How To Choose The Right Saddle Pad
- Manual: Saddle Pad Sizing
- Breed-Specific Sizing Tips
- What To When You Have The Wrong Saddle Pad
- Maintenance and Preservation
What Is A Saddle Pad?
Before anything else, let’s do a recap on what a saddle pad exactly does.
Basically, it is a cushion inserted under the saddle, designed to absorb impact and sweat. The saddle pad protects your horse from a lot, from rashes, hair loss, irreversible spine damage, to general discomfort. Saddle pads are vital to maintaining their optimum physical and emotional health in the long run. Remember, less pain for your horse means they will be in a better mood, which can improve their performance.
Different Types of Saddle Pads
Saddle pads come in a variety of materials, and some are tailored for specific disciplines. Familiarizing yourself with the different types can help you choose the right pad for your horse.
- English saddle pads are thin and light for the purpose of giving you more contact with the horse’s back, while Western saddle pads are heavier, as it distributes the rider’s weight over a larger area for a more comfortable ride.
- Full saddle pads offer more padding for your horse to add extra protection, and give you the opportunity to show off embroidered logos. They are used in advanced disciplines such as dressages.
- Half saddle pads are about half or less than the size of a full pad. They are used to offer support or correct your horse’s back problems. They are usually made of fleece, so they are soft on your horse’s skin and work well in wicking moisture away. Half pads work well in any discipline, be it for dressages, hunting shows, or casual riding.
- Gel pads are mostly recommended for horses with a sore back. But unknown to many, they may be the ones that help your horses the most, out of all pads in the market. They are like half pads and are very thin; they can also have front or rear risers for extra support. Gel pads also reduce pressure on your horse by absorbing impact and evenly distributing weight along its back. Not only that, but you also get to enjoy the perks—the pad protects your skin from riding sores, maintains your balance when crossing uneven trails or performing tricks, provides warmth during cold weather, and keeps you comfortable for longer rides. In fact, a study from Austria showed that gel pads were the most effective in reducing force and pressure on a horse compared to materials like foam and leather.
How To Choose The Right Saddle Pad
Two cardinal rules must be kept in mind when choosing a saddle pad: it must conform to your horse’s back, and it must be fitted to the size as well as the design of your saddle. If your saddle was made for dressage, then your saddle pad should be for dressage too. It is important that you choose the right saddle pad to avoid cases such as the pad slipping off, which can lead to injuries.
Saddle Pad Sizing
Saddle pads are measured by their length and width. The length refers to how long the pad runs along your horse’s spine, while the width refers to how wide the pad is from one side, across the withers, and down the other side.
“One size fits all” is usually the case for both Western and English saddle pads. A proper saddle pad should be 2 inches longer than the length of your saddle and 2 inches wider than the bottom of the skirts. An extra small size can range from 14 to 14.5 inches, a small size is 15 to 15.5 inches, a medium-sized pad is 16 inches to 16.5 inches, and a large-sized pad is 17.5 inches or even more. Take note that saddle pads are fit to the saddle and not the horse.
So how do you get the right size for your pad? First, you must measure your saddle. You may ask your saddle fitter or your trainer to help you get the precise measurements, or you can measure 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.
Remember, it is better to have a saddle pad that’s a little too big than a little too small.
Breed-Specific Sizing Tips
Even horses of the same breed are built differently; for example, some have a rounder barrel than others, and with age may come back problems. Some breeds, like thoroughbreds, tend to have high withers, so you may want a saddle pad with front risers. Take note of these things as you may need a bigger or a specific type of pad to address those issues. However, keep in mind as well that more padding will not fix an ill-fitting saddle. A saddle pad is only meant to provide additional cushioning, not replace a saddle.
Since every horse is unique regardless of its breed, it would be better if you can find a saddle that will fit them first, and go from there when it comes to choosing the size. For example, the saddle size for an average adult is 15 inches. You’re going to want a medium or large-sized pad to go with that saddle since you want a few inches to spare. Saddles are fit for both the horse and the rider, but it is more important that it fits the rider since he/she will be the one riding the horse.
In general, saddle pads work best in disciplines that involve a lot of activity, such as jumping, racing, or eventing, because it not only keeps you steady while performing tricks, it also ensures that your horse is not undergoing too much pressure thanks to the cushion provided by the saddle pad, therefore maintaining their performance.
Damage Control: What to do when you’ve bought the wrong one?
There’s usually no problem if your saddle pad is a little too big, because you can simply cut off the excess. But what if your saddle pad is now too small? This is a no-brainer, but first, you need to try and exchange your saddle pad for a different size from whatever store you bought it from. Most stores have warranties so long as you don’t modify it or haven’t damaged it, and you reach out before a certain period of time has passed (could be a month or year).
If store exchanges are out of the question, try asking for business cards at your local craft store for a saddlemaker that can make alterations. Have them check your saddle pad and ask if they can modify it to make it fit better.
Maintenance and Preservation
You don’t need to wash your saddle pads everyday; you can wash it every week, or every second or third ride. Too much washing may ruin the material, so only wash it if it is too dirty or wet. Make sure to clean out all the hair and dirt with a brush, comb, or vacuum after every ride so it doesn’t accumulate. Be careful and gentle when cleaning it out, especially if your saddle pad has fur, as you might cause a tear. Do not put a saddle pad in the washer if it still has hair or dirt in it—that will clog up your machine.
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 at 30. 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.
Just like what a human body undergoes through age and wear, a horse will also go through many such changes. Having the right saddle pad can ensure your horse is in tip-top shape.