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Is a Felt or Fleece Saddle Pad Better for Your Horse?

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In our tack room, we have a wide variety of saddle pads. Some are made with neoprene, or traditional felt to absorb impact. However, my favorite is still the old-fashioned standard: fleece, but which is the best?

If you typically ride your horse for hours at a stretch, natural wool felt saddle pads are likely your best option. However, fleece and felt saddle pads have advantages and disadvantages. The type and duration of your riding will influence your choice of saddle pad material.

Whether you ride for pleasure or participate in shows or competitions, you need a reliable saddle pad under your saddle. A saddle pad ensures a better fit with the saddle and keeps the rider and the horse more comfortable.

Two of the most commonly used materials in saddle pads are felt and fleece. Both have their pros and cons. And that is precisely the topic of this guide. Here we will cover:

  • Is felt or fleece better for a saddle pad?
  • Best fleece saddle pad
  • Best wool saddle pad
  • And more…
Picture of an English fleece saddle pad.

Is Felt or Fleece Better for a Saddle Pad?

Fleece saddle pads are made of a soft, fuzzy fabric designed to wick moisture away from the horse’s back. This saddle pad material is ideal for horses who sweat a lot or live in humid climates. Fleece pads are also relatively affordable and easily cleaned with a damp cloth.

However, fleece saddle pads can sometimes bunch up under the saddle, which can cause discomfort for the horse. They also tend to be less durable than other types of saddle pads and may not last as long if used frequently.

Many felt saddle pads are made of dense, non-absorbent material ideal to protect the horse’s back at pressure points from chafing. This is a material often used in English-style saddle pads, as it provides a close fit and helps the saddle stay in place.

In the following sections, we’ll take deeper dive into both kinds. First, we will talk about felt saddle pads in general and cover the pros and cons of wool felt and synthetic felt saddle pads.

Wool Felt Saddle Pads

Wool felt has been the traditional material of choice for saddle pads. It is made of compressed wool and comes in thickness of ½ to 1 inch. 

Here are the pros and cons of wool felt saddle pads:

ProsCons
Firm and pliableIn time, woolen felt pads compress and don’t provide adequate protection. They need to be replaced once they are worn out.
Wool felt pads are also more expensive than synthetic felt pads.
Molds naturally to the horse’s back
Naturally flame-resistant
Disperses pressure evenly to prevent pressure points
Does not collapse or bottom out
Moisture-wicking – absorbs almost 3 times its weight in water
Dissipates heat evenly and does not hold it against the horse
Is breathable

Synthetic Felt Pads

Synthetic felt is made of artificial materials, although you could also have a blend of synthetic materials and wool as well.

ProsCons
Pliable and molds to the horse’s backNot as breathable as wool felt 
Prevents pressure points by absorbing impacts and shocksTends to get hotter than wool felt pads
Ensures better saddle pad fit
Less expensive compared to wool felt pads

Let us now talk about Fleece saddle pads.

Fleece pads are also available in the form of wool fleece or synthetic fleece.

Wool Fleece Saddle Pads

Wool fleece saddle pads are higher in quality compared to synthetic fleece.

ProsCons
Wick moisture from the horseTend to attract burr, sticks, and dirt
Conform better to the horse’s back to ensure a good fitBecome harder to clean with age
Soft and provide very good cushioningExpensive compared to synthetic fleece pads

Synthetic Fleece Saddle Pads

Pros Cons
Durable and longer-lasting than most other materialsCompact down with time
Cheaper than wool fleece padsTend to get hot in the summer months
Attract dirt and can get harder to clean.

The verdict

As you can see, both fleece and felt saddle pads have pros and cons. However, wool felt pads are far superior compared to any other material. 

You get breathability, superior fit, and moisture-wicking property with wool felt pads. They also dissipate heat more uniformly to keep your horse cool.

If you do not mind their higher price, you should spend the extra money and buy wool felt pads, especially if you ride for long durations. I noticed that this is the type most racehorse trainers use for their horses.

Best Fleece Saddle Pads – 2022 Top Picks

CHALLENGER Horse English Quilted Contour Fleece Padded Saddle Pad Blue 72119

#1. Best English Fleece Saddle Pad: CHALLENGER Horse English Quilted Contour Fleece Padded Saddle Pad

We purchased this as a gift for our granddaughter, and she was thrilled with it. Challenger is a popular brand in horse products, and it never fails to deliver. Many great features make this English quilted fleece padded saddle pad one of the best-rated ones.

This fleece-lined English saddle is lined with washable synthetic fleece, so you won’t have any issues keeping it clean. It also has girth loops and billet keepers to prevent it from slipping.

The outer part is made of heavy-duty quilted cotton, and you also get a choice of 3 colors: red, black, and blue. My granddaughter purchased another pad from this brand in a different color.

Features

  • 24-inch spine x 17-inch drop
  • ¾ to 1 inch thick
  • Velcro billet keepers
  • Cotton twill quilted fabric

Pros

  • Easy to clean
  • Has extra padding
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Some users found it short.
Intrepid International Western Fleece Pad, White

#2. Best Western Fleece Saddle Pad: Intrepid International Western Fleece Pad

If you’re looking for a lightweight and washable fleece saddle pad for western riding,  then you will surely love the Intrepid International Fleece pad. It is lined with fleece on the top and bottom. This prevents the saddle from slipping and also makes it easy to wash.

Here are its outstanding features:

Features

  • Made with soft, dense hospital fleece
  • Size 30×30 with 1-inch thickness
  • Available in 7 colors

Pros

  • Slip-resistant
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to wash

Cons

  • Some users found it small.

Best Wool Saddle Pads

Intrepid International English Saddle Pad with Sheep's Wool Lining, Black

#3. Best Wool Saddle Pads for English Riding: Intrepid International English Saddle Pad with Sheep’s Wool Lining

Intrepid Internation English saddle pads use natural sheep’s wool under the panels and at the withers. This keeps things very comfortable for the horse and rider. It also prevents sweating and keeps your horse cool. Intrepid International English saddle pad is also very attractive, and the sheep’s wool keeps things perfect for winter months. 

Features

  • Spine 24”, drop 20”
  • 100% 3/4 cotton quilted outer and real sheep wool lining under the panels and at withers
  • A rugged wear patch at the panels also prevents the saddle pad from rubbing.
  • Available in black and white colors

Pros

  • Elegant
  • Perfect size
  • Ideal for cold weather riding

Cons

  • The wool sheds a bit.
Diamond Wool Contour Felt Ranch Pad 32X32

#4. Best Western Wool Saddle Pad: Diamond Wool Contour Felt Ranch Pad

You can always count on Diamond Wool to produce outstanding products for a great price. My family and I have always relied on Diamond Wool saddle pads for daily riding and, sometimes, we even ride for multiple hours several days in a row, and these hold up well.

Diamond wool pads are incredibly soft, and they mold to your horse for a comfortable fit. This also ensures a better fit of the saddle. Moreover, you get a long-lasting and durable saddle pad for an affordable price.

Features

  • Available in sizes 30 x 30 and 32 x 32 with ½ or 1-inch thickness
  • Hand-crafted in the USA with wool felt

Pros

  • Extremely well-made pads
  • Nice and thick
  • Great color
  • Value for money

Cons

  • Horsehair tends to stick to the pad. It is difficult to get it out.

What Saddle Pad is Best for my Horse?

To answer the question: ‘what saddle pad is best for my horse’ use the following guidelines:

#1. Ensures a good fit

A good saddle pad should match your horse’s contours and withers. Some horses have ‘camel-like’ withers, so you need to pick a padded and comfortable saddle pad that won’t rub against their skin. Many horses also have a history of sores and bruising – so they need special, softer pads. There are saddle pads available, especially for high-withered horses as well.

#2. Your riding discipline

Saddle pads are shaped according to the riding discipline they are used for. For example, dressage pads are square-shaped, whereas endurance riding needs contoured pads. Check the rules of your discipline before you select a saddle pad.

#3. Improves the saddle’s fit

The saddle pad that is best for your horse is the one that helps the saddle fit correctly. For example, injured or underdeveloped horses may need custom-fit saddle pads or even half pads to improve the saddle’s fit and help them adhere better to their backs.

Let us now discuss some of the best-rated saddle pads in the market.

Can You Layer Saddle Pads?

You can layer saddle pads if your horse has high withers. The layers will keep the saddle pad off its withers and prevent chafing and rubbing.

Also, western disciplines like team ropers layer saddle pads for extra protection to keep the horse’s back from burning. 

Layering is also much-needed if you use synthetic neoprene pads. Although synthetic pads are great from the point of view of shock absorption, they tend to build up the heat under them more so in warmer weather or when you ride for a longer duration.

To answer the question: do you need to layer saddle pads? It depends on your horse and also the saddle’s fit. A thin blanket under the saddle pad can undoubtedly keep the pad cleaner.

Many riders – yours truly included – simply cannot get the liners or blankets to lie flat the way I want. So, we simply deal with dirty saddle pads. Just pressure wash them as needed.

What’s the Difference Between a Saddle Pad and a Saddle Blanket?

Saddle pads are used for English and Western riding, but saddle blankets are only under Western saddles. Mostly, riders use thicker saddle pads to protect their horse’s back from pressure points, impacts, and shocks when riding over a long distance.

Saddle blankets on their own have no shock absorption. However, many people like to use Navajo blankets, especially while showing as it is more traditional. They can also change the blankets to match their show outfits. It is always easier to haul 20 different saddle blankets than carrying 20 extra saddle pads for shows.

The best bet is to buy a good base pad and top it with a blanket or purchase an all-in-one pad with 100% wool Navajo blanket on top.

Some people only use blankets, and if that’s all the horse needs, it is totally fine. However, genuine, 100% Navajo blankets are expensive, so people use synthetic ones. Synthetic blankets do not have the same benefits as wool.

Do I Need a Saddle Pad or Saddle Blanket?

In western riding, the saddle blanket is considered the original saddle pad. Cowboys would use them under their saddles during the day when riding, and, at night, they would sleep on them.

However, saddle blankets are not very thick, so you should only use them for pleasure riding or short trail riding. Saddle blankets cannot offer the same shock absorption as a saddle pad.

So, at all other times, you need a saddle pad.

FAQs

What do you put under a horse saddle?

You can use a saddle pad, numnah, or a saddle blanket under the horse saddle. They provide extra cushioning and prevent the saddle from rubbing against the horse’s skin.

What is the role of a half saddle pad?

As the name indicates, the half saddle pad is roughly half the size of a regular saddle pad. Half pad performs the critical role of shock absorption. You use a half pad when a horse has changed shape or lost muscle.

What saddle pad material keeps a horse coolest?

Wool is the best material to keep your horse cool; it is breathable and evenly distributing heat. T e natural fiber of wool also helps maintain comfort for your horse.

How thick should a saddle pad be?

In order to ensure that your horse is comfortable and the saddle is stable, it is best to use a saddle pad that is between 1 and 2 inches thick.

Conclusion – Is a Felt or Fleece Saddle Pad Better?

Both felt, and fleece pads have their benefits and disadvantages. In general, felt pads made from wool are considered superior because they are softer and more pliable, have better moisture-wicking, dissipate heat uniformly, and ensure a better saddle fit.

These days, fleece pads usually come with fleece lining on the underside of the pad with quilted cotton on the outside. The fleece layer absorbs moisture to keep your horse cool and dry. They also keep the saddle in place.

I hope this guide helps you understand the main differences between the fleece and felt saddle pads and helps you choose the right one for your needs.