Impact Gel Saddle Pad Review – Why You Should Own One!
With many riding problems being linked to the comfort of the horse’s back – especially in a world where riders are getting heavier and sports more demanding – it’s understandable that specialised saddle pads and half pads are all the rage. As a qualified saddle fitter, I see plenty of horses that could be helped by some modifications to their saddle configuration, and that doesn’t always mean adjusting the saddle. Pads can be helpful in making horses more comfortable and boosting performance.
Impact Gel is one of the newer – and, it has to be said, most expensive – companies in the saddle pad market. Their specialised gel is supposed to be one of the most shock-absorbing materials on the market. But are these pads all they’re cracked up to be?
The Science Behind Impact Gel
Made from soya beans, Impact Gel is a squishy material that’s designed to absorb shock effectively. Its molecules are build in a cross-link structure that allows them to move freely around one another, meaning that instead of passing directly through them, energy bounces around these molecules and dissipates. In practice, this means that when the rider impacts the saddle, the force is spread evenly throughout the pad instead of slamming directly into the horse’s back.
Why do we want to protect the horse’s back from unnecessary impact? Well, most saddles already do so to an extent. Well-fitting saddles lift the rider’s weight away from the horse’s sensitive spine, spreading it across the longissimus dorsi – the long muscles running down the length of the horse’s back from the back of the shoulder blade to the hips – instead. The trouble is that too much impact on the longissimus dorsi can cause soreness and “dropping the back”. A horse with a dropped back is much more likely to develop kissing spine or lordosis (swayback), as well as being unable to carry the rider comfortably. Impact Gel pads are designed to minimise the force of the rider’s weight in the saddle, keeping those muscles more comfortable and free to move.
Horses That Need Gel Pads
While it might sound like a nice idea to give your horse a shock-absorbing saddle pad, first stop to consider why your horse’s back is experiencing impact in the first place. A correct and balanced rider should not be flopping hard in the saddle in any case. Even in dire straits, experienced riders are capable of staying “light” on the horse’s back, regardless of their actual bodyweight. Heavy riders who are strong and balanced are much softer on the horse’s back than lighter, clumsier riders. Your first line of defence in protecting your horse’s back is simply to learn how to ride properly – to take responsibility for your own weight and sit softly and in harmony with the horse’s motion. No amount of shock absorbing material is capable of protecting a horse entirely from a floppy rider.
However, strength and balance aren’t built in a day. Beginner or disabled riders are going to be a little harsh on the horse’s back to begin with. This is nothing to feel bad about, as everyone had to start somewhere; but steps can be taken to protect the horse’s back in the meantime. Impact Gel is an ideal way to help keep your horse comfortable. These pads are ideal for use in a riding school or trail riding establishment – if their hefty price tags can be afforded.
Horses with existing back problems can also be kept more comfortable by the use of appropriate gel pads. Conditions such as kissing spine, cold backs, lordosis, roach back, and old injuries of the back muscles or tendons don’t have to be career-ending. Some horses can be rehabilitated, and a wellfitting saddle with an appropriate gel pad – fitted by a saddle fitter – can be a key part of that rehabilitation.
What Sets Impact Gel Pads Apart?
Gel pads of all types have shock-absorbing properties, but they also have one major disadvantage: heat. Most gel doesn’t breathe, and when the horse works, his muscles generate both kinetic and thermal energy – in other words, just like humans, horses get hot when working. This heat energy is trapped by most conventional gel pads. Overheating the horse’s back is not only uncomfortable, but can cause injury to the muscles and bones of the back.
Impact Gel, however, is designed to eliminate this problem. Heat is energy, just like impact – so because the gel works on a molecular level to dissipate energy, heat is also dispersed throughout the gel instead of trapped in the horse’s skin. While another layer of material will always generate a little extra heat, Impact Gel is one of very few gel pads that are designed to actively address this problem. The pads are also all handmade with only the highest quality materials. All this means one thing: If your horse does need a gel pad, then Impact Gel is the way to go!
Different Impact Gel Pads
Now that you’ve established that your horse needs a gel pad and that Impact Gel is the way to go, only one question remains: which one? Impact Gel makes a variety of pads to suit every horse and rider, with varying thicknesses and styles. Some of the most popular are:
The classic Impact Gel Felt Contour Pad: This simple pad is the entry-level Impact Gel product. Its contours prevent pressure points over the withers and spine and its simple, rectangular shape means that it fits underneath most Western saddles and even some English saddles. This is the basic pad, suitable for most ordinary horses and riders.
The Impact Gel Cowtown w/Fleece Pad: This pad is made with felt instead of wool, making it more attractive to look at, easier to care for, and more durable than the felt pad. Its decorative surface is made out of pure New Zealand wool. This pad is suited to Western riders doing trail disciplines or just happy hacking.
The Impact Gel Contour Barrel Pad: Designed to fit neatly underneath a barrel racing saddle, this pad protects the hardworking competitive barrel horse’s back from the rigours of the sport. Its breathable wool also helps keep the horse’s back even cooler.
The Impact Gel Trail Endurance Pad: This pad fits better underneath an endurance saddle than the larger rectangular pads, which can tend to wriggle out from under a smaller saddle. It is specifically designed to keep the horse’s back as cool as possible.
The Impact Gel Saddle Seat Cushion: A luxurious product for the rider, this pad fits over the seat to protect the rider’s joints from the horse’s jarring stride and to give the rider a more comfortable seat. Perfect for endurance or trail riders, this seat pad can also help injured or ageing riders to feel more comfortable.
While not every horse needs a gel pad, where one is required, Impact Gel is undoubtedly the way to go. Bear in mind that when your horse’s saddle is being fitted by a qualified professional, the use of the gel pad must be taken into account to avoid unintentionally ruining an otherwise perfect fit. Help your horse’s back stay healthy and sound with the use of one of these top-of-the-range saddle pads.