Saddle Pads and Padding

How many different types and brands of saddle pads or blankets have you bought in the last five years?

These days we have an overwhelming selection of different styles, materials, and promises amongst saddle pads and blankets that it is hard to make a choice.  The most asked question in our shop from customers is what kind of saddle pad they should be using.  This usually gets into a lengthy conversation on my saddle padding philosophy and so we will discuss some of the key areas and hopefully this will help to answer some of you questions on the right padding for your horse.

Gimmicks Saddle Pads vs Old School Pads

It is no surprise for some of you that know about us, that we are naturalist when it comes to horse gear.  I am not a fan of synthetic anything when it comes to horses.  I enjoy keeping things simple and staying with products and materials that have worked for horseman for centuries.  This does not mean that there aren’t some good modern products out there that can help to fix some of the problems among horse owners.

The main thing I want you to stay away from is wasting large amounts of money on the next “great thing”!  Every year someone tries to reinvent the wheel… or saddle pad in this case… by coming up with some new material that is going to revolutionize the western saddle pad industry.  Almost every time they are gone within a couple years and your tack room is now cluttered even more with yet another saddle pad that is worthless.

I am not going to personally attack any particular product here, but I want you to be aware that if a saddle pad claims to do away with all your fitting issues in one fail swoop then stay away from it.  I don’t care if it has shims that you can use to adjust for fitting every horse on the planet or that you can put M&M’s in the middle of it and hit it with a hammer and not hurt the M&M’s.  Use the skeptic’s mind and remember, “If it seems to good to be true, it is.”

Since I am a naturalist by nature,  I say stick with natural products first.  100% wool material has been used for saddle pads and blankets for centuries for a reason… IT WORKS!  A hundred and twenty years ago almost all clothing was made of wool.  Why is that?  Because it breathes.  No matter the weather conditions, it breathes and either keeps heat in for warmth or holds sweat in to help cool you down.  The saddle pads and blankets made out of wool work the same way.  As a horse sweats, the wool fibers wick this moisture to the surface to be cooled by the air which in turn cools your horse’s back.  Do you think that neoprene shim saddle pad is going to do that?

Another advantage to wool is that it can be cleaned.  Wool is easy to clean and air dried for use again and again.  This cleaning restores the breathing attributes of the saddle pad and allows it to function the way it should.

Life Span of Saddle Pads

Saddle Pads and blankets do not last forever.  Depending on your riding activity, a saddle pad’s life span may only be a couple years.  A day working cowboy who rides all day everyday may only have a saddle pad last for a year, this is the cost of doing business.  A weekend warrior may make a saddle pad last two to three years if it’s taken care of.

As saddle pads get used more and more the wool fibers break down and in the bar areas they can become packed and thin.  The edges of the saddle pad may appear thick and plush but where the bars of the saddle sit, it is too packed down and hard to offer any support.  At this time we call that saddle pad making it to the “backup stage.”  This saddle pad now needs to be replaced with a new one and you can put this older saddle pad up as a backup in case you get caught in the rain and need a dry saddle pad one day.

A good quality wool saddle pad will run you around $200 and factored out over the lifespan of 2 years for the majority of us weekend warriors, that’s around $8 per month… don’t be a tightwad, buy a new one.

Blankets, for me, need to be wool as well.  Lots of people will spend hard earned cash on a good wool pad and then buy the cheapest synthetic blanket to go underneath it.  That’s a great idea!  Let’s put a cheap product that doesn’t breathe in between your horse and that quality pad that breathes.  “But I don’t want to get the pad dirty.”  Spend the extra money on a wool blanket.

Common Problems Caused by Saddle Padding

Whether your saddle pad is old and worn out, or if you got caught up in the newest pad craze, here are some of the common problems associated with saddle padding:

  • Dry spots on horses back
  • White hairs on horses back
  • Gaulding/rubbing
  • Saddle tends to roll
  • Horse experiences muscle soreness
  • Horse quitting under pressure

These are just a few of the symptoms, but I am sure you have experienced at least one of these at some point.  Seeing these does not mean it is definitely the saddle pad.  Sometimes it can be the saddle fit or other issues.

My main take away here is to be sure and check the simplest thing first if you see one or more of these issues.  When I’m consulting a customer on a fitting problem with their saddle, I look at the saddle pad first and make sure that we aren’t seeing them because of the saddle pad.

Saddle pads are cheap in the scope of the issue and can be changed out easier than changing saddles or costly vet bills.  Many times when someone comes to me with a problem, we find that the saddle pads they are using are worn out or just not of good quality and replacing the saddle pads or blankets with what I recommend helps them a great deal.  This does not mean that padding can fix an ill fitting saddle, if the saddle fits poorly enough then there is nothing that a pad can do… even an M&M protecting shim saddle pad.

What I Recommend for Saddle Padding

I have already discussed what I recommend as far as the material and that’s 100% wool.  In pads this means a 100% wool felt and there are a lot of great choices out there for this type.  The saddle pads that I recommend for most applications are Tod Slone Pads because they are made of the highest quality felt and hold up better than most I’ve seen.   Like I said these are not cheap but they aren’t super expensive either.  When we are talking about blankets, if you choose to use one, I like the 100% woven blankets either in the single weave or the double weave.  There are some great companies out there making blankets in thousands of different colors and styles.

On the saddle pads, I recommend for most horses and applications, a 3/4″ felt in a size medium.  Some horses may need a large, but for the majority of quarter horse owners this size is plenty long under saddle.  The main thing to remember here is that you don’t want the saddle to overhang the saddle pad.  If this happens then you do not have adequate padding to keep the skirts from rubbing the hips of the horse.  If you are going to use only a pad and no blanket then a 1″ felt would be good too.

My rule of thumb for most horses is 1″ worth of padding total.  That means that all blankets and saddle pad should total no more than 1″ thick.  The goal with fitting properly is to have the saddle as close to your horse back as possible without causing injury.  Where people get into trouble, especially ropers, is they think the more padding the better.  If you have a saddle that doesn’t fit quite as well as you would like and you add more padding you amplify the problem.  This can cause the rolling of the saddle that we mentioned earlier.

If your saddle fits the horse properly, you don’t need a lot of padding to protect against soreness.  That is my argument with the M&M protecting saddle pads of gel that claim “no impact.”  Your saddle should not be bouncing off the horse’s back and slamming back down causing impact.  There is increased pressure in certain riding applications, but there shouldn’t be any direct impact.  If the saddle fit is good then 1″ of padding is sufficient.

We could spend all day visiting about different saddle pads and saddle padding but I hope that this short discussion clears up some of the questions and concerns out there about this issue.  If you have any specific questions for your situation or would like to schedule a fitting session at our shop give us a call and we would be glad to help you anyway we can.

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