If you are already using a saddle pad strategically to help your saddle fit, good for you! This should give you a little more detail about how to do it better. If you still think a saddle pad is just a piece of cloth to protect your saddle from a sweaty horse… oh my, you’re in for an eye opening experience! If you’ve read any of my other articles you’ve probably read about the importance of saddle balance, possibly to the extent that I sound like a broken record! But balance IS that important and the biggest advantage of modern pads is that they can help to correct an unbalanced saddle!
Types & Uses
There are so many “corrective” pad options available nowadays, and there are a few different types that serve specific purposes very effectively. The pads we are covering in this article are most focused on protecting a horse’s back and improving saddle fit, which helps narrow the field. The three most useful are foam topped pads (ie Thinline), Sheepskin pads, and shim pads. They can provide a number of solutions including balancing a saddle along the topline, balancing the saddle laterally, minimizing acute pressure on a horse’s back, preventing bridging/rocking and lifting a saddle off a horse’s back.
Between these 3 styles of pads there are a ton of cases where they can help. At least one of these probably applies to you (or your horse) right now:
- Young horses changing quickly
- Rehabbing and/or very sensitive backed horses
- Leased horses that you don’t have a fitted saddle for
- Low/no budget for a fitted saddle
- One saddle for multiple horses
- Heavier rider, especially an amateur rider
- Shifting/bouncing saddles
- Asymmetrical horse
How & When to Use
Keep in mind as we go through each pad’s uses, there is a lot of overlap between all of them. For example, just about every different type of pad (foam, sheepskin, cotton) comes in a version that accepts shims. It is simply my goal to help you find the best solution for your horse.
Foam pads come in a few different styles, from just a 1/4 inch sheet of foam, to foam/cotton hybrids with the most popular brand being Thinline. These are great pads for spreading out acute pressure under a saddle. The biggest benefit is that they come in very slim designs, so if you don’t have a lot of room in the gullet, or the tree is on the narrow side, they won’t fill too much space under a saddle.
If your saddle has panels that aren’t evenly distributing your weight over the back, whether it be tight at the withers/shoulder or too much pressure over the trapezius/mid back area, foam pads are your friend. They are also great when it comes to sore, rehabbing or sensitive horses that have a generally decent fitting saddle, thanks to the low profile design.
Sheepskin pads are definitely the most widely used “corrective” pads. It’s hard to feel that soft fluffy sheepskin and think your horse won’t love it! And they certainly are useful. The higher end sheepskin pads are a hefty but soft consistency, and are akin to an additional set of wool panels under your saddle… as the material is very similar to what wool saddles are flocked with.
They work well for saddles that sit too low near the withers/spine, as they provide a healthy lift to the saddle to keep it away from the horse’s skeleton and ligaments. They are also great for any saddle that is too wide for a horse, as they can fill that space under the tree points. And anytime a heavier rider is in the seat, especially an amateur that isn’t perfectly balanced, they are a nice addition to give the horse a little extra protection.
Shim pads, meaning pads that accept 1/8 – 1/4 inch shim inserts, are by far the best innovation in saddle pads to date. They come in all forms, including the two materials mentioned above, as well as in plain cotton. They are great for young changing horses, leased horses, multiple horses sharing one saddle or asymmetrical horses. Pretty much any time a saddle is out of balance for any reason, they will be your (relatively) low cost friend.
If a saddle is sitting low in the front, causing it to rock or bounce behind, siding in shims in the front on either side will solve the problem. If a saddle is putting you in a chair seat or tipping back onto the horse’s lumbar, sliding in shims in the rear on either side will help get the saddle leveled out. If a saddle is twisting or falling off laterally (to the left or right), often sliding a shim in the front on the side it falls down on will solve the problem. Keep in mind with lateral movements of the saddle, there is sometimes an element of “trial and error” as there can be multiple causes to the shifting. If the first try doesn’t work, simply experiment with different padding until you find the right one.
(Or write an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we can help you personally, free of charge)
While none of these pads beat a perfectly fitting saddle, the truth is many riders cannot afford one, and the right saddle pad used the right way is infinitely better than nothing at all. We are in a lovely day and age of “smart” saddle pads, with so many low cost resources to help our horses and our positions. Now go out there and take full advantage!!
Questions, comments, suggestions, or feedback of any kind? Please leave a comment. I will reply!