Remember when all you had to decide about buying a saddle pad was English, Western, and maybe color?
Those times have passed. Saddle pads have evolved in recent years as new ideas and materials have become available. Manufacturers have brought the humble saddle pad into the arena of high-tech, claiming more cushioning, better absorption, increased breathability, durability and washability. Riders want all of this in an attractive pad.
In spite of all the new high tech materials, some riders still prefer pads made of sheepskin, wool or cotton. On the other hand, synthetic materials including foam, gel, polymers, and even air-filled cells have some advantages. These materials are durable and excel in shock absorption and cooling properties.
Interviews with horse professionals across the country indicate that “different strokes for different folks” is true when it comes to saddle pad preferences.
Leslie Ward, editor of Young Rider magazine and a Pony Club volunteer, says, “I’ve found that the young riders I work with like colorful, novelty pads for schooling. They seem to favor the large, square pads and love to match up the color of the pad with splint boots or their helmet covers. I’ve seen all kinds of snazzy pads at cross-country jumping events, including purple glitter pads and zebra patterned pads.”
For her own use, Ward buys inexpensive white, square pads that she pairs up with a sheepskin half-back pad primarily because they are easy to clean. She has about ten of them, and hoses them off after every ride.
“I just want a saddle pad to offer a little padding between me and the saddle and my horse’s back. I truly believe that pads, no matter how fluffy or thick, are not intended to fix a badly fitting saddle,” says Ward.
Melissa Anderson from Maravian Falls, N.C., rides dressage. She likes the square pad to be cotton on the outside and padded with wool felt inside. She does not like foam-filled pads because she finds they often retain heat. Her favorite pad is the Toklat Clarion Quilted Show Pad. She also likes the sheepskin pads made by Mattes and Christ Lamfelle (distributed by Horse Dream.) Anderson warns these pads may not work with an already well-fitting saddle. “Because of their loft it may affect the fit of your saddle . . . up to a tree size.”
Liz Graves, trainer, judge and clinician at Outback Ranch in Houston, Minn., also has a favorite saddle pad. “My favorite is a 100 percent wool 32 x 64 blanket as I like a double fold thickness. Wool breathes well, wicks sweat away from the horse’s body, does not overheat the horse’s back and is durable. It is hard to clean so I do only use it for special occasions.” She uses a Cashmilon blanket for everyday riding because its acts much like wool but is easier to clean. Cashmilon is a blend of cotton and synthetic fibers.
Gene Glasscock, a long-distance rider who has been traveling across the country for the past two years, uses Dixie Midnight’s No Sweat pad under a fleece pad. He says it’s the best pad he has ever used. The pad is designed to draw sweat away from the horse’s back, not only keeping the horse comfortable, but also keeping the regular saddle pad clean and dry. Glasscock has used the No Sweat for the two years he has been on his long distance ride, which amounts to ten thousand miles so far. These pads were first marketed to cattle ranchers who spent long days in the saddle.
The No Sweat is made of interlocking large diameter polymetric fibers that wick away sweat from the horse. It is heat sensitive, so that the warmer it gets the softer it gets, making it comfortable for the horse. Cleaning is a snap–just hose the pad off after use.
Wendy Coley, trainer and owner of Calvary Stables in Zebulon, North Carolina, likes the Tacky Tack pads to use with her cutback saddles in lessons and training sessions. She also uses a Cashel cushion on top of the Tacky Tack to give the lesson horses extra comfort. Coley says, “I look for ease of cleaning and comfort for the horse when I am choosing a pad.”
Tacky Tack pads are constructed of ventilated, shock-absorbing, soft, USDA–approved foam. The pads are designed not to slip or creep and are machine washable. They come in English and Western styles.
Lorraine Price, product reviewer for www.nchorsenews.com and vice president of the North Carolina Horse Council, gives Thinline pads a thumbs-up. “It’s one of the best I’ve used in a while,” she says. Price tested it personally and says neither she nor her horse had a sore back after long hours in the saddle. She also reports that the Thinline is easy to clean, lightweight, and does not slip. The Thinline is made of open-cell foam, a material that does not compress, and is very durable. Both Western and English style pads are available. In addition, they make a style that is sheepskin-lined for extra cushion. The Thinline is cleaned by sponging it off or machine washing.
Judging from these comments, natural materials and traditional styles have not been completely replaced by new technology, but the new materials give riders more choices than ever before.
• Cashel Company
Price Range: $30-$100
• Dixie Midnight No Sweat Saddle Pads
Price range: $100-$172
Order online or by phone
• Gel Ride
Price range: $70-$113
Order online or buy in tack stores.
• Horse Dream Canada
Available in tack stores.
• Tacky Tack Pads
Price range: $48-$74
Buy in tack stores or online.
• Thinline Saddle Pads
Price range: $45-55, Western $65-85, with sheepskin $230
Fun Print Saddle Pads
Available in tack stores.
In tack stores