Saddle pads fulfill a range of functions, and your reason for using a saddle pad should influence the type of pad you get. The main reasons why horse riders use saddle pads are to remove excess moisture and heat from the horse’s back, to improve saddle fit, and to distribute the forces on the horse’s back more consistently as he moves. Let’s take a deeper look at some of the main functions of a horse saddle pad.
- Wicking Away Moisture and Heat (Cooling)
A saddle pad helps to wick away moisture from your horse’s back as well as dissipate heat. Natural fiber saddle pads are generally better than synthetic pads for absorbing heat and wicking away moisture. The natural fibers act as a shield that traps air between fibers, so these pads keep the horse’s back cool when the weather is hot and warm in cold weather. Natural fiber pads are great at pulling sweat away from your horse’s skin and trapping it in its fibers. They can hold a lot of moisture. Even with the best pad, your horse’s back will still get hot and sweaty. To keep your horse cool, make sure to use a saddle that fits well and is made with good quality padding.
- Improving Saddle Fit
In a perfect world, every horse would have a saddle that fits them like a glove, but unfortunately, that’s not always the situation. A saddle may be used by more than one horse, flocking can shift within the panels, and horses change shape with time. If the saddle is pretty much the right shape and size, then a pad can make it more comfortable for the horse – but pads can only do so much, and you can’t fix a saddle that’s the wrong size for the horse. If the saddle is too wide, extra padding can help, but make sure there’s enough space between the padding and the saddle because a wide saddle can sit too low in the front. If the saddle is too narrow and is squeezing the sides, then adding padding will only make it worse. So, finding the right balance is key to have a good riding experience.
- Relieving High Pressure
Saddles may have areas of high pressure, such as from tight stirrup bars or lumpy flocking. In these cases, natural sheepskin is a good material for relieving high pressure. Compared to sheepskin and wool, synthetics perform poorly. Wool’s natural resiliency and crimp traps a huge volume of air between the fibers, which allows a sheepskin pad to shrink in areas of high pressure and mitigate pressure points. A natural fiber pad is able to change the pressure points under a saddle that fits properly.
- Cushioning the Forces on the Horse’s Back
A saddle pad is also effective in evening out the pressure when it is placed directly on the horse’s back or on top of a thin pad. While walking, the total force on the horse’s back is fairly even and is approximately equal to the combined weight of the saddle and the rider. But in the suspension phases of the canter and trot, the force of the horse’s back pushing upward against the saddle and the rider’s seat pushes the rider upward. As this happens, the horse’s back experiences higher force. A saddle pad helps to spread out the force on the horse’s back during each step, so it’s not all concentrated in one spot.
Natural fibers have good cushioning properties. A study found that reindeer fur is pretty great for cushioning and reducing pressure points. But sheepskin works well too, it can squish down in areas of high pressure and make the ride more comfortable for your horse.
In summary, saddle pads serve various functions, including protecting the underside of the saddle, wicking away moisture and heat, improving saddle fit, and cushioning the forces on the horse’s back. The type of pad chosen will depend on the specific purpose it is being used for, and natural fibers like sheepskin and wool are generally considered better for providing cushioning and wicking away moisture. It’s also important to remember that a saddle pad cannot correct an ill-fitting saddle, and it’s essential to ensure the pad and saddle do not exert pressure on the horse.