Six Different Types of Saddle Pads – Which One is Right for You?
Factors Affecting Saddle Pad Choice
There are many factors that will affect your choice of pad, including your horse’s conformation, the discipline you ride in, the fit of your saddle, and any history of back problems that your horse might have. Before choosing a pad, consider the following:
- What discipline do you ride in? What are the rules of that discipline? While you might get away with a hot pink square pad in showjumping, you could be penalised or even eliminated for using such a pad in hunters or dressage.
- What saddle do you use, and what is the size of the saddle? Pads generally come in small, medium, and large sizes. Small is for saddles no bigger than 16”, while medium caters for 16.5” to 17.5” saddles and large for saddles even bigger than that.
- Does your horse have any back problems? Horses with a history of kissing spine, saddle sores, or bruising would benefit from a softer pad to absorb more impact. Girthy horses will also benefit from the use of a gel or foam pad that will spread the pressure of a tightening girth more evenly.
- Does your horse have very high or very flat withers? This will influence your choice of the saddle pad’s cut – high withers will need a high-cut pad.
Six Types of Saddle Pads
1. The Shaped Pad
This commonly used pad has a simple design. It is cut to fit around the edges of the saddle, thus being perfect for disciplines where you want to show off more of your horse – like hunters or showing. It’s also cooler for your horse, so some are specially shaped for endurance saddles for use in distance riding. Fleece-trimmed shaped pads are soft on your horse’s skin and fashionable for use in hunter classes, or you could even go for the more traditional full fleece pad, which is much more work to look after.
2. The Square Pad
Square pads are a little warmer for your horse than shaped pads, but they are perfect for embroidering large logos – such as your stud, school, or sponsor’s logo. They are traditionally used in jumping, eventing, and dressage (where a square white pad should always be used). Like shaped pads, they can be trimmed with sheepskin for extra comfort. Square pads with a decorative swallowtail are also popular for their unique look.
3. The Western Pad
Western pads are large and rectangular, enabling them to fit under the skirt of the Western saddle. While most are still traditionally made of wool, some have foam sections to absorb more shock from the rider’s weight. Others have fleece-lined inners to prevent chafing or rubbing. Still others are highly decorative for shows and other special occasions. Western pads should always be used with a Western saddle, and can also fit well underneath endurance, trail, military or stock saddles. They’re not advised for use with English saddles.
4. Corrective Saddle Pads
All of the above pads are available with corrective inserts to help with lifting your saddle or making it more symmetrical. Many of these are made with memory foam, which adapts to your horse’s shape for perfect cushioning every time. Others are non-slip, preventing saddles from slipping on those extra-wide barrel-shaped ponies, especially Quarter
Horse types used in Western riding. Still others allow for more free movement of the shoulder. Observe your horse’s way of going and any issues he might have in order to choose whether he needs a corrective pad and, if so, which one would suit him the best.
5. Sheepskin Half Pads
These pads are extremely popular in the dressage and showjumping fraternities. Made from either genuine or faux sheepskin, these soft and fluffy pads provide a little extra shock absorption and keep the saddle more snug on the horse’s back. They’re typically well cut back and padded in the wither area to reduce pressure from the pommel of the saddle. Sheepskins can be a perfect addition for any hardworking horse, but they do alter the fit of the saddle. Don’t just randomly introduce a sheepskin (or any half pad for that matter) to a saddle that already fits. A professional saddle fitter should fit your saddle with the sheepskin to ensure that your well- intentioned addition is not pinching your horse’s scapulae.
6. Corrective Half Pads
TA variety of corrective half pads are very popular for use on problematic horses. Asymmetrical horses can benefit hugely from the use of a half pad with removable shims, which can be used to “fill up” the horse’s less developed side until that muscle builds. Sometimes these are made with memory foam shims or with a sheepskin lining for extra comfort. Other half pads are made purely of foam and designed to lift a saddle that’s too wide or unbalanced – a significant advantage if you have a horse that can be expected to grow into a wider saddle. Finally, gel pads have even better shock-absorbing properties than sheepskin with the added bonus of keeping the saddle more firmly in place.