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Saddle Pads 101: What Saddle Pad is Best for My Horse?

Last updated: March 21, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

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When it comes to riding your horse, selecting the right saddle pad can make all the difference in your horse’s comfort, performance, and overall health. A saddle pad is not just a cushion between your horse and the saddle; it can also protect your horse’s back and help distribute pressure evenly.

But with so many types of saddle pads available, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. That’s where this guide comes in. I’ll walk you through the key factors to consider when choosing a saddle pad for your horse, including material, size and shape, thickness, style, and maintenance.

By the end of this post, you’ll have a better understanding of how to choose the perfect saddle pad to suit your horse’s needs and preferences. So, let’s get started.

Saddle Pad Material

Saddle pads come in a variety of materials, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Deciding which material is best for your horse depends on several factors, such as natural or synthetic, and other factors, like riding discipline, climate, and personal preferences.

Picture of saddle and saddle pad.
Saddle and saddle pad.

Natural materials like wool, cotton, or sheepskin offer breathability and comfort, while synthetic materials like polyester or neoprene provide durability and ease of care. It’s important to consider these factors when choosing a saddle pad for your horse to ensure optimal support and cushioning during rides.

Cotton

Cotton saddle pads are a classic and popular option among horse owners. These pads are typically made from natural fibers and are known for their durability and breathability. The natural fibers allow for air to circulate around your horse’s back, which can help prevent sweat buildup and overheating.

This can be especially beneficial during warm weather or intense rides. Cotton pads can also provide a comfortable and soft surface for your horse’s back. Another advantage of cotton saddle pads is their versatility.

They come in a range of styles and designs to suit your preferences and can be used for a variety of riding disciplines, including English and Western. Some cotton pads also feature additional padding or inserts for extra support and cushioning.

When it comes to caring for your cotton saddle pad, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for washing and drying. Most cotton pads can be machine washed on a gentle cycle with mild detergent and then air dried.

You should also be sure to regularly inspect your cotton saddle pad for signs of wear and tear, such as thinning or fraying of the fibers. If you notice any damage, it may be time to replace your pad to ensure your horse’s comfort and well-being.

Wool pad

Wool saddle pads are a popular option among horse owners for their softness, breathability, and moisture-wicking properties. These pads are typically made from natural fibers and feature a fluffy texture that provides cushioning and support for your horse’s back.

One of the main benefits of wool saddle pads is their ability to wick away moisture from your horse’s back. This can help prevent sweating and overheating, as well as reduce the risk of rubbing and discomfort. Wool is also naturally antimicrobial, which can help prevent the growth of bacteria and fungus on the pad.

Another advantage of wool saddle pads is their ability to conform to your horse’s back over time. The fibers in the wool can compress and conform to the shape of your horse’s back, providing a customized fit that maximizes comfort and support.

When it comes to caring for your wool saddle pad, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for washing and drying. Wool pads may need to be hand-washed and air-dried to maintain their shape and texture. It’s also important to avoid using harsh detergents or bleach, as this can damage the material and affect its performance.

Sheepskin

Sheepskin and wool saddle pads are not exactly the same, although they are similar in that they are both made from natural materials and offer similar benefits. Sheepskin saddle pads are made from the hide of sheep, which includes the wool fibers attached to the skin.

The wool is typically left on the hide and shaped into a pad, which provides a soft and cushioned surface for your horse’s back. Sheepskin pads are known for their ability to wick away moisture, provide insulation, and reduce pressure points.

Wool saddle pads, on the other hand, are typically made from the wool fibers themselves rather than the entire sheepskin hide. The wool fibers are woven or compressed into a pad, which provides a soft and cushioned surface for your horse’s back.

PIcture of a horse saddled for dressage with his saddle pad.
Standard dressage saddle pad

Synthetic Fleece

Synthetic fleece saddle pads are a popular and affordable option among horse owners. These pads are typically made from materials such as polyester and feature a synthetic fleece lining that provides cushioning and support for your horse’s back.

One of the main benefits of synthetic fleece saddle pads is their ability to provide a soft and comfortable surface for your horse. The synthetic fleece lining mimics the softness and cushioning of natural fleece but without the added cost or maintenance requirements. Synthetic fleece pads are also known for their durability and ease of care.

Another advantage of synthetic fleece saddle pads is their ability to wick away moisture from your horse’s back. This can help prevent sweating and overheating, as well as reduce the risk of rubbing and discomfort. Synthetic materials are also less likely to harbor bacteria or fungus, which can be beneficial for horses with sensitive skin.

When it comes to caring for your synthetic fleece saddle pad, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for washing and drying. Most synthetic pads can be machine washed and dried, making them easy to care for. It’s important to avoid using harsh detergents or bleach, as this can damage the material and affect its performance.

Gel pad

Gel saddle pads are a popular option among horse owners who are looking for extra cushioning and support for their horse’s backs. These pads are typically made from a gel-like material that molds to your horse’s back, providing a customized fit and reducing pressure points.

One of the main benefits of gel saddle pads is their ability to distribute weight evenly across your horse’s back. This can help prevent soreness, stiffness, and discomfort, especially during long rides or high-impact activities.

Gel pads are also known for their shock-absorbing properties, which can help reduce the risk of injury to your horse’s back. Another advantage of gel saddle pads is their durability and ease of care.

Most gel pads can be easily cleaned with soap and water and are resistant to mold and mildew. Gel pads may also come in a variety of shapes and sizes, making it easy to find one that fits your saddle and your horse’s back.

When it comes to using gel saddle pads, it’s important to ensure a proper fit and placement. Gel pads should be used in conjunction with a well-fitted saddle and should be placed directly on your horse’s back, with no additional pads or layers in between. It’s also important to regularly inspect your gel pad for signs of wear or damage and to replace it as needed.

Picture of three horses in training.
Horses in training

Choosing the Right Size and Shape for Your Horse

One of the most important factors to consider when choosing a saddle pad is ensuring a proper fit for your horse. A poorly fitting saddle pad can cause discomfort, rubbing, and even injury to your horse’s back.

When it comes to shape, there are a variety of options to choose from, including square, contour, and half pad. Square pads are the most traditional option, but they may not conform as well to a horse’s back as a contoured or half pad.

Contoured pads are shaped to fit the curve of a horse’s back and can provide better support and cushioning. Half pads, which are placed directly on the horse’s back under the saddle, can be a good option for horses with sensitive backs or for riders who want to customize the fit of their saddle.

To measure your horse for a saddle pad, you’ll need to take measurements of both the length and width of their back. Be sure to measure from the withers to the tail and across the widest part of the horse’s back.

It’s also important to consider your saddle fit when choosing a saddle pad, as the two should work together to provide optimal comfort and support for your horse. To ensure a proper fit, it’s important to try on saddle pads before purchasing, if possible.

Look for a pad that sits evenly on your horse’s back and does not bunch or wrinkle. You should also check for any signs of rubbing or irritation after riding with the saddle pad. If you notice any issues, it may be time to consider a different size or shape.

Choosing the right size and shape of the saddle pad is crucial for your horse’s comfort and well-being. By measuring your horse properly and trying on different options, you can find a saddle pad that fits your horse like a glove.

Picture of a woman putting a saddle pad on a horse.

Saddle Pad Thickness: Fit and Comfort

The thickness of a saddle pad can greatly impact the comfort and fit of your horse’s saddle. A saddle pad that is too thin may not provide adequate cushioning or shock absorption, while a pad that is too thick may cause your saddle to fit improperly, leading to discomfort or even injury for your horse.

When choosing the thickness of your saddle pad, it’s important to consider a few factors. First and foremost, you should consider the fit of your saddle. If your saddle fits snugly, you may not need a very thick pad to provide adequate cushioning. Conversely, if your saddle fits loosely or is too large, you may need a thicker pad to fill in the gaps and provide a better fit.

You should also consider your riding discipline when choosing the thickness of your saddle pad. Riders who participate in high-impact disciplines, such as jumping or eventing, may benefit from a thicker pad to provide extra shock absorption. On the other hand, riders who participate in lower-impact disciplines, such as dressage, may not need as much cushioning and can opt for a thinner pad.

Ultimately, finding the right balance between comfort and fit is key when choosing the thickness of your saddle pad. It may take some trial and error to find the perfect thickness for your horse. Still, by considering your saddle fit and riding discipline, you can make an informed decision and ensure your horse stays comfortable and healthy while riding.

Choosing Saddle Pads: Riding Style and Discipline

Your riding discipline can impact your saddle pad choice. Riders who participate in high-impact disciplines, such as jumping or eventing, may need a thicker pad with additional shock absorption. In contrast, riders in lower-impact disciplines, such as dressage, may not need as much cushioning.

Saddle pads come in a variety of styles and designs, each suited for different riding disciplines and purposes. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular styles and how they might affect your saddle pad choice.

Pads for English saddles

English saddle pads are designed to fit under English-style saddles, which tend to be smaller and lighter than Western-style saddles. English pads come in a variety of shapes, including square, contour, and half pads, to accommodate the shape and size of the saddle.

One of the main benefits of English saddle pads is their ability to provide close contact between the horse and the rider. This can help the rider communicate more effectively with the horse and provide a more comfortable ride.

English pads are also designed to provide a breathable and moisture-wicking surface, which can help prevent sweating and overheating. English saddle pads may be made from a variety of materials, including natural fibers like wool or cotton or synthetic materials like polyester or neoprene.

The choice of material will depend on personal preference, as well as the level of support and cushioning needed for your horse’s back.

Dressage saddle pads

Dressage saddle pads are designed specifically for use with dressage saddles, which have a longer, straighter flap than other English-style saddles. Dressage pads are typically rectangular in shape and may be made from materials like cotton, wool, or synthetic fabrics.

Dressage riders require a high degree of communication and precision with their horse, and a well-fitted pad can help facilitate this connection. Dressage pads are also designed to provide a breathable and moisture-wicking surface, which can help prevent sweating and overheating during intense training sessions.

Dressage saddle pads may also feature extra padding or support in certain areas, such as the withers or the back of the saddle, to help provide extra cushioning and reduce pressure points. Some dressage pads may also feature special girth loops or billet straps to help keep the pad securely in place during rides.

Picture of a paint horse with a western saddle.

Western saddle pads

Western saddle pads are designed to fit under Western-style saddles, which tend to be larger and heavier than English-style saddles. Western pads are typically rectangular in shape and are typically thicker and more heavily padded than English pads to provide extra support and cushioning.

One of the main benefits of Western saddle pads is their ability to distribute weight evenly across your horse’s back. This can help prevent soreness, stiffness, and discomfort, especially during long rides or high-impact activities.

Western pads are also designed to provide a breathable and moisture-wicking surface, which can help prevent sweating and overheating. Western saddle pads may be made from a variety of materials, including natural fibers like wool or cotton or synthetic materials like polyester or neoprene.

Special-purpose saddle pads

Special-purpose saddle pads are designed to meet the unique needs of certain horses or riders. These pads may offer specific features or benefits, such as extra cushioning, pressure relief, or therapeutic properties.

There are also pads designed for horses with sensitive skin or allergies, which may be made from hypoallergenic materials or feature a breathable mesh lining. Here is a look at some of the more common specialty saddle pads.

Therapeutic pad

One example of a special-purpose pad is the therapeutic pad, which is designed to provide support and relief for horses with back or joint pain. These pads may be made from materials like memory foam or gel, which can mold to the horse’s back and provide targeted support where it’s needed most.

Therapeutic pads may also feature extra padding or shock-absorbing properties, which can help reduce the impact of each stride and prevent further injury.

Half pad

Half pads are designed to provide extra cushioning and support under the saddle. They are typically made from materials like wool, synthetic fleece, or memory foam and are placed directly on the horse’s back before adding the saddle on top.

One of the main purposes of half pads is to help distribute weight more evenly across the horse’s back. This can help reduce pressure points and prevent soreness or discomfort, especially during long rides or high-impact activities like jumping.

A properly fitted half pad can help fill in any gaps or provide extra cushioning where needed, which can help improve the overall fit and comfort of the saddle. This can help prevent injury or discomfort for the horse and ensure optimal performance during rides.

Especially in the case of horses with high withers because they can be difficult to fit, as many saddles may not provide enough clearance or may cause discomfort in this area.

Endurance saddle pad

Endurance saddle pads are designed specifically for the needs of endurance riders who participate in long-distance races that can last for hours or even days. These pads are typically made from lightweight, breathable materials like wool or synthetic fabrics, which can help regulate temperature and moisture on the horse’s back during intense rides.

One of the main features of endurance pads is their ability to provide extra cushioning and support for the horse’s back during long rides. Endurance riders may travel up to 100 miles in a single day, and a well-fitted pad can help prevent soreness, stiffness, and discomfort during these long distances.

Endurance saddle pads may also be designed to provide extra shock absorption and pressure relief, especially in areas like the withers or back of the saddle. Some endurance pads may feature extra padding or inserts, which can be removed or adjusted as needed to provide the perfect level of cushioning for the horse.

Picture of a horse going out for training.
Racing pad on a Thoroughbred

Racing pad

Horse racing saddle pads are designed to provide maximum support and cushioning for the horse’s back during high-speed racing events. These pads are typically made from lightweight, breathable materials like neoprene or mesh, which can help prevent overheating and promote airflow during intense exercise.

One of the main features of horse racing pads is their ability to reduce friction and pressure on the horse’s back. These pads may be contoured or shaped to fit the horse’s back and may feature extra padding or cushioning in certain areas to help distribute weight evenly and reduce the risk of injury.

Horse racing pads may also feature special grips or non-slip materials to help keep the saddle securely in place during races. This can help prevent the saddle from shifting or sliding during turns or sudden movements, which could cause discomfort or injury to the horse.

Here is a good YouTube video about the importance of choosing the right saddle pad.

Take good care of your saddle pad.

Regular cleaning and care of your saddle pads are important to ensure their longevity and maintain their performance. Let’s take a look at some tips for washing and caring for different types of saddle pads, as well as how to know when it’s time to replace them.

First and foremost, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for washing and caring for your saddle pad. Some pads may be machine washable, while others may need to be hand-washed or spot cleaned. It’s important to avoid using harsh detergents or bleach, as these can damage the material of the pad.

Cotton pads can generally be washed in a washing machine on a gentle cycle with mild detergent. Wool pads should be washed in cold water with a wool-specific detergent to avoid shrinking or damaging the fibers. Gel pads should be wiped clean with a damp cloth and allowed to air dry.

Once your saddle pad is clean, be sure to store it in a dry, well-ventilated area to avoid mold or mildew growth. You should also avoid folding or creasing the pad, as this can damage the material and cause it to lose its shape.

Over time, your saddle pad may begin to show signs of wear and tear, such as thinning or fraying material. If you notice any of these signs, it may be time to replace your pad. A saddle pad that is no longer providing adequate cushioning or support can lead to discomfort and injury for your horse, so it’s important to replace it as needed.

Conclusion

Choosing the right saddle pad for your horse is an important decision that can greatly impact its comfort, performance, and overall health. There are several key factors to consider when choosing a saddle pad, including the material, size and shape, thickness, style, and purpose.

By taking into account your horse’s needs and preferences, as well as your riding discipline and climate, you can choose a saddle pad that will provide optimal support and cushioning for your equine partner.

When shopping for a saddle pad, be sure to try on different options and take the time to find the right fit. Consider the material and thickness of the pad, as well as any special features or designs that may benefit your horse’s specific needs.

At the end of the day, choosing the right saddle pad should be a priority for any horse owner who wants to ensure their horse’s health and comfort while riding. By investing in a high-quality saddle pad and taking good care of it, you can enjoy many happy rides with your equine partner.

FAQs

Do saddle pads fit all horses?

No, saddle pads do not fit all horses. The fit of a saddle pad depends on the size and shape of the horse, as well as the type of saddle. It’s important to choose a saddle pad that is the right size and shape for your horse to ensure optimal comfort and performance.

Does it matter what saddle pad you use?

Yes, choosing the right saddle pad for your horse based on factors like material, thickness, and riding discipline can help ensure a safe, comfortable, and successful ride.