Saddle Pad Innovations: Try These On For Size!

The right saddle pad is one that fits your horse well, absorbs shock and pressure, and helps distribute weight evenly.

If you've spent any time at all shopping for a new saddle pad, then you know that there are a mind-boggling array of choices available. Some of the most innovative saddle pads absorb shock and pressure, helping your horse stay comfortable while delivering his best performance, while others help keep his back cool. Others offer the look of a traditional saddle pad while providing some additional benefits that your horse - and you - will appreciate.

Saddle Pads That Absorb Shock and Pressure

With the exception of a few types, nearly all saddle pads absorb shock and pressure to a certain degree. This having been said, some models offer innovative designs that enhance saddle fit and reduce the amount of shock and / or pressure that your horse feels. Surprisingly, old-fashioned felt does a fantastic job of distributing weight, and it's found in many of the most popular performance pads. 

Saddle Pads with Gel Inserts

Some of the newest saddle pads boast space-age gel inserts that work by distributing impact and then regaining their original shape. The inserts fit into pockets between the pad's layers, and are shaped to lie in the area where the saddle's bars come into contact with the pad. A saddle pad with gel inserts is generally heavier than one without, but don't let that worry you. The additional weight isn't significant enough for your horse to notice it, and he's sure to appreciate the improvement in the way weight, shock, and pressure are distributed on his back. Like most types of foam, gel does not breathe. Saddle pads with gel inserts are best for deflecting shock, particularly in performance events, and they can help alleviate minor issues with saddle fit. In addition, these pads are good for adding comfort to everyday rides.

Open and Closed Cell Foam Saddle Pads

Both open and closed cell foam saddle pads do a good job of distributing pressure and absorbing shock. What's the difference? An open cell foam saddle pad is made with the same type of flexible foam that's found in mattresses and office chairs. It's a synthetic material that's filled with minuscule air bubbles with broken surfaces. These bubbles release air when pressure is applied, allowing the foam to compress. When the pressure is released, air rushes back in, and the saddle pad bounces back to its original shape. Open cell foam saddle pads conform to your horse's back, providing a flexible cushion while offering some breathability. This type of saddle pad is best for adding extra cushioning and easing minor issues with saddle fit. On the downside, open cell foam saddle pads soak up sweat and hold in heat.

A closed cell foam saddle pad resists pressure very well, and helps with the job of distributing weight. It compresses less than an open cell saddle pad does, because the tiny air bubbles inside don't have broken surfaces. The air in the bubbles just moves around when pressure is applied. While closed cell foam saddle pads don't absorb sweat, they do not breathe. They're easy to rinse clean, but they do hold in heat. This type of saddle pad is ideal for deflecting shock in performance events such as roping, and they can be nice for adding some comfort during everyday rides.

Memory Foam Saddle Pads

Memory foam is everywhere these days. You might enjoy it in your mattress or even in your bedroom slippers. Not surprisingly, memory foam, also known as visco-elastic foam or slow recovery foam, does a pretty good job of absorbing shock. It molds to your horse's back, distributing your weight while stabilizing your saddle. It relieves pressure points, and it can help with minor issues with saddle fit. Memory foam gets softer in hot weather, and it recovers slowly. Like many other synthetic materials, it absorbs heat from your horse's back. It can bottom out under heavy pressure, particularly in hot weather.

The Takeaway

While high-tech liners made from shock absorbing materials are typically used as underpads, they are also found in innovative saddle pads with multiple layers designed to provide a total performance package. The top layer is typically designed to provide an attractive appearance while standing up to wear and tear, while the layer lying closest to the horse is usually meant to breathe and wick away sweat. Some performance pads meant for short-term wear are designed to prevent saddle slip, and feature materials such as textured neoprene or closed cell foam. Most saddle pads that absorb shock and pressure are thicker and somewhat heavier than the pads you might be accustomed to. Some brands have thinner inner layers through the leg area to allow for better contact, while others are built up to suit swaybacks or horses with high withers. High tech saddle pads are available in different styles to suit English and Western riders. Whether you prefer the look of a straight back or contour, you can find a shock absorbing saddle pad to suit your taste.

A Word About Saddle Fit

If your saddle doesn't fit your horse correctly, it's best to replace it rather than to attempt to correct the problem with padding. While high tech saddle pads can handle minor fit problems, they can't make a saddle that's the wrong size or style fit the right way. If your horse has high withers or is otherwise difficult to fit, take a moment to chat with our experts and get some advice. It's free, and you'll find that with just a little help, the decision about which saddle pad to choose - high tech or otherwise - is much easier to make.