Everyone knows that saddle pads are a necessary item for riding, but knowing which type of pad is best for your horse can make a big difference in their comfort level.
When shopping for new Western saddle pads, two important factors to consider are the materials it’s made from and the thickness. Here’s more information on both…
Saddle Pad Materials
The main materials used in modern Western saddle pads include:
- Foam (either closed-cell/neoprene or open-cell/polyurethane): While foam pads may be cushy and provide adequate compression, they aren’t great at wicking sweat, and they often trap heat. They can also be slippery. Neoprene pads provide good compression and have a tacky surface to keep them from sliding, but most do not dissipate heat well either (with the exception of waffle-patterned neoprene, which encourages airflow).
- Felt (needled, pressed industrial, or synthetic): Felt is a very durable saddle pad material and is usually great for providing compression. It wicks sweat well and dissipates heat, but it doesn’t breathe as well as some other materials like fleece.
- Fleece: Fleece is used as the base for many woven, decorative pads. Synthetic fleece is cheaper and more durable than genuine wool fleece, and it doesn’t tend to mat or compact as quickly. However, genuine wool fleece is more cushioning. Both are breathable and dissipate heat well. The downside to fleece pads is that they don’t tend to last as long as pads made from some other materials. However, washing and fluffing your fleece pads can help to extend their life.
- Gel pads: The downfall of gel pads is that they tend to work well for a while but then get “squashed” in certain areas. Ultimately, they may not provide enough compression. Gel pads can also trap heat and aren’t good at wicking sweat.
Saddle Pad Thickness
The ideal thickness of your pad will depend upon your horse’s back conformation. You will want a pad that can displace the pressure of the saddle. However, round-backed horses may need a thinner pad in order to keep the saddle in place and prevent it from moving around or rubbing. Choosing a pad that is at least 1/2 inch thick is advisable, though.
There is definitely no one-size-fits-all saddle pad. What works for one horse may not work for another. You will need to consider your horse, riding discipline, and the level of work your horse does. This will help to determine which saddle pad is the best option for you.
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