Saddle pads are almost too vital to be referred to as an afterthought. Pads work in tandem with the saddle to provide a comfortable ride for both horse and rider.
The saddle pad’s function is to:
- Reduce the amount of weight on the horse’s back.
- Remove water and let the back to cool.
- Prevent slippage and rocking of the saddle.
- Keep grime, perspiration, and horse hair off the saddle.
The saddle pad becomes less important as the saddle fits better. A rider on an endless search for the perfect saddle pad is a good indicator of a badly fitted saddle. These are people you are familiar with. They have more than 20 pads in their collection and are constantly eager to share their latest find.
While pads can help with minor saddle fitting issues like altering a saddle to accommodate a group of horses with similar physical characteristics, they can not make a badly designed or fitted saddle fit your horse.
Types Of Western Saddle Pads
There has been an explosion of new products in the saddle pad market. There are so many choices available today that it can make your head spin. New technologies and synthetic materials adapted from other industries such as medicine and space have fed this explosion.
One other important contributing factor is the increase in the number of inexpensive manufactured saddles being sold today. Poorly fitting saddles have sent many a rider on the fruitless quest for the perfect saddle pad. Start with a well fitting saddle and your saddle pad choice will be a breeze. There are many great pads on the market today.
Saddle pad materials fall into two main categories – natural fibers and synthetic materials.
Saddle pads were traditionally made of natural fibers. Today you’ll find pads and blankets made of wool, mohair, cotton, and blends of these materials. Wool, mohair and wool/mohair blends are considered the superior natural fibers for pads. They “breathe” well by absorbing moisture and wicking it away, conform well to the horse’s back, and are very durable. The best are woven tight and are very dense.
Wool blankets have been excellent saddle pads for many, many years. The traditional Navajo blankets are the top of the line in wool saddle blankets. They’re 100% wool, very soft, durable, absorbent, and beautiful. They use heavy textured yarn running both ways of the weaving to create a very strong material.
An authentic Navajo blanket is pricey and hard to find. Be aware that there are many, many Navajo knock-offs on the market. These knock-offs may or may not be 100% wool, but they aren’t constructed with the same yarn quality or weaving methods.
Nowadays, just about any wool blanket with an Indian pattern is marketed as a “Navajo.” Price is usually a good indicator of quality. A $15 “Navajo” blanket is far from authentic.
Saddle blankets are traditionally doubled to create enough cushioning to stand on their own. Some folks prefer to use a blanket on top of a pad. If you choose this style, you should use a thinner pad such as a blanket liner to ensure that you haven’t created too much bulk. Some blankets are sold as single layer and can usually be placed over a regular pad without problems.
The synthetic materials include nylon, rayon, rubber, and plastic. Some of these pads, particularly the ones using materials developed in the medical industry, are very good at cushioning, cooling, and absorbing moisture. They’re designs incorporate technologies that improve performance and comfort. Neoprene (a rubber material) pads have become popular of late.
While they do a great job of stopping slippage and providing cushioning, they create quite a bit of heat and don’t absorb moisture very well.
What Size Western Saddle Pad Do I Need?
On all sides, a properly fitting pad should reach at least one inch beyond the saddle. This implies you will need a pad that is at least 2 inches longer than the length of your saddle and 2 inches broader than the width of the skirts’ underside. A smaller pad will not give adequate protection and may cause sores. A pad that is overly large might also cause issues by generating too much heat and bulk.
Caring For Your Saddle Pads
Inspect your pad before each usage for burs, twigs, hay, or other irritating objects that will irritate your horse by rubbing on his back while you ride. Consider going around all day with a stone in your shoe. A pad must be allowed to air out and dry fully between uses. The best method is to hang the pad on a bar (such as a saddle pad bar or a fence).
The worst thing you can do is set the pad on top of your saddle with the horse-side (sweaty side) down. This slows the drying process and transmits moisture to your saddle. That is disgusting. If you have no other choice, place the pad on your saddle with the horse-side up. A pad must be cleaned on a regular basis. Dirt, hair, sweat, and other debris accumulate quickly on a pad and irritate your horse.
More Helpful Tips
Different riding activities necessitate different pad kinds. A roper requires the most shock absorption possible. A cutter who will not be riding for lengthy periods of time only only a small blanket to maintain close contact. A barrel racer requires a rounded, lightweight pad. A lighter, more breathable pad is needed by an endurance or pleasure rider to help distribute the rider’s weight equally. Different functions, like saddles, necessitate different saddle pads.
Many riders have the misconception that the thicker the pad is, the better. This is a typical blunder. A saddle with too much mass under it becomes unstable and interferes with your interaction with the animal. It also increases the amount of heat produced and the likelihood of a fold or bunched-up area causing discomfort and soreness.
Wear leathers are short strips of leather sewed to the edge of the pads to protect them from wear caused by the stirrup leathers rubbing against them. These are a great touch, but they should not be too thick or they will get in the way of your horse’s interaction.
The term “self-conforming” is currently popular in the saddle pad industry. Gels and liquids are now placed into many pads to cushion and mold the pad to the horse’s back. While there are some fantastic new technology pads on the market, the principle is not. Wool and mohair are excellent self-conforming fabrics with a long history.
Some pads have a “cut-away” design, which means the withers are taken out. This is a particularly good alternative for horses with high withers who could be bothered by a full pad rubbing against their withers.
The simple truth is that the more comfortable your saddle is, the less crucial the saddle pad becomes. Start with a well-fitting saddle and a good pad, and you will have a fantastic ensemble.