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The Importance Of Saddle Pads



Dressage saddle pad

Continuing on our horse tack series, we move on to saddle pads! Saddle pads or saddle blankets have their own purpose in your tack list. These unassuming pieces of equipment can be very important. Let’s explore them.

The Importance of Saddle Pads

Saddle pads, or saddle blankets, go under the saddle to protect the horse from contact with the saddle’s material. That is not their only function, as they help the horse’s back stay dry as well, and cushion against impact.

There’s a little more about saddle blankets than that, though. While today there are many types and styles, even many materials for saddle pads out there, in the past, these were actual saddle substitutes. Before the invention of saddles, riders wore just blankets over their backs. This was already an advancement, stopping direct contact with the horse’s spine and making riding more comfortable for both.

After the invention of saddles, the saddle pads and blankets served to protect the horse’s back, yes, but also to distribute the weight, cushion the horse’s back and also cool the horse down. Depending on the material, this cooling factor can be greater or less, and it becomes a question of what is more necessary: padding, support, drying or cooling off.

Pads vs. Blankets

Saddle blankets are usually just rectangular pieces of cloth. They offer no padding or extra protection beyond that of the material itself. Pads, on the other hand, are just as the name says: they have some padding to it, usually foam, wool or some other material. Sometimes, one can use both blankets and pads together. Because most saddles are not custom made to fit a horse perfectly, the pad offers extra protection, as it helps distribute weight and cushion the horse’s back. On the other hand, the blanket, usually thin, adds style and looks to the pad.

Saddle blankets and saddle pads may be worn together.

A western saddle blanket.

Depending on the activity, the saddle blanket can be worn by itself. This is common in Western style, and they often come with tassels and other decorations for extra look and flair. But even in this case, care must be taken, as cloth saddle blankets may bunch and slip, which may cause sores.


As mentioned, saddle blankets were the first type of saddle. Throughout time, people used various different materials to serve this purpose. These include woven hair, fleece, wool, linen, felt, animal hides and many others. Sometimes, there would be a combination of materials.

In the modern world, saddle pads come in different materials, shapes and purposes. Depending on the material, the pad will help to wick moisture away and keep the horse’s back dry. Popular materials for this are fleece and felt, both capable of doing such a thing. Neoprene saddle pads don’t slip as easily and are easy to clean, but they are a lot less breathable than more natural materials.

Neoprene saddle pad

Neoprene saddle pads are anti-slipping.

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Other materials include foam, even memory foam. Some saddle pads claim to aid in varied ways, and as such, they should be chosen accordingly. Gel saddle pads are a relatively new innovation, and they, too, have a purpose. These help with things such as impact and weight distribution. Some saddle pads will “lift” parts of the saddle in such a way as to protect the horse’s back from the saddle pressures.

Gel Saddle Pad

Gel saddle pads are worn between the saddle pad and the saddle, or by themselves.

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Synthetic materials such as foam and gel are best for horses with conformational problems, as they help adjust the rider’s and saddle’s weight. Usually, these materials will not wick away sweat from your horse’s back. It’s important to remember that no blanket or pad will protect your horse from a badly fitting saddle, no matter the material or quality. However, these pads will help correct minor issues that may appear with a well-fitted saddle.

Adjusting saddle pads to the horse

There are as many types of saddle pads as there are saddles. Like with saddles, they can be English or Western, and as such, adapted to each saddle’s shape and form. English saddle pads tend to be thinner, while Western ones are thicker. Saddle blankets

Other than saddle blankets (numnahs in the UK) and the saddle pads, there are some different styles that fall in-between. Half pads offer extra protection on the sides and back of the saddle pad, and adjust to a slightly loose saddle, offering more contact. In all cases, the saddles should fit the horse, but horses do change shape throughout their life. In this, a half-pad can help. They may also help with sore backs.

Likewise, the saddle pad’s thickness will interfere with the saddle’s positioning. A saddle pad shouldn’t be so thick as to reduce contact between the horse’s back and the saddle. Such situations might even make the saddle slip. They should not sit too forward or too far back on the horse’s back, either, as this will also put pressure in the wrong position.

Dressage saddle pad

Dressage saddle pads are usually square. This one is contoured, which means it adapts to the shape of the horse’s back.

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Saddle pads can also be shaped (similar to the saddle’s shape) or square. Square ones will be slightly bigger than the saddle and offer protection on the sides as well as the back. Shaped ones are more common in sports such as show jumping. Dressage saddle pads are usually square and thus protect along the saddle flaps as well.

As with every other bit of tack, whether they are bits, saddles, halters or horse blankets, the right choice is the one that combines usability with comfort. The saddle pad’s choice should meet the rider’s needs in all areas or as many as possible: the cooling factor, the support factor, comfort and fit should be as necessary for the best experience possible. There is no better or worse separate from the individual horse’s and rider’s needs and characteristics.

So what do you think? What sort of saddle pad do you use? Do you just use a blanket? Let us know in the comments below!

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