A good, well-fitting saddle pad can dramatically increase the comfort of your horse. English saddle pads are available in many different shapes, designs, and materials, so how do you know which is right for your horse? In this guide, we will share the different kinds of saddle pads, how to choose the right one for your horse, and some great options that our customers rave about.
What Are Saddle Pads?
Saddle pads, also sometimes called numnah (in the UK), act as a protective barrier to provide a thin layer of cushioning between your horse’s back and its saddle. They serve several valuable functions: to reduce friction caused by the saddle rubbing against your horse, to prevent heat build-up, to decrease shock, to absorb perspiration, and to protect your saddle from rubbing and scratches.
Types of English Saddle Pads
There are many different types of saddle pads since different riding disciplines require different types of protection or functionality. Here is a list of the saddle pad types, as well as which types are preferred by which English riding disciplines.
Shaped Pads — The shape of the pad is designed to mimic the saddle shape. Shaped pads are used for all English riding disciplines except for dressage, where the saddle flaps are longer and require a longer pad. Shaped, or fitted, English saddle pads come in a variety of materials and colors, though white is generally used for shows.
Half Pads — These pads, common in Europe, cover a small part of a horse’s back under the saddle tree. Half pads can be used on their own or with a shaped pad if the saddle has enough room for it. They are most often used in the hunter or jumper show ring. Half pads are often natural or synthetic fleece, but they also may have gel or foam centers to better absorb shock.
Square Pads — These are also called all purpose or dressage saddle pads, as they are specifically designed to accommodate a dressage saddle’s longer saddle flaps. Square pads are available in many materials, including cotton, neoprene, or other synthetics. They can be thickly quilted and may have a gel or foam center. White is used during a show, and they also come in many fun colors and patterns for schooling.
Comfort Pads — Also called pillow pads, these pads are filled with quilted polyester batting for added comfort. They are similar in shape to the square pads. Using this type of pad does require that your saddle be able to accommodate the additional thickness, so you will want to check the saddle fit before you buy one.
Baby Pads — This ultra-thin sheet offers little to no cushion or protection. In the U.S. it is commonly used as an inexpensive pad under half pads to keep them clean and to reduce laundering of the larger pads.
Custom and Specialty Saddle Pads
Sometimes custom or specialty pads can be useful, especially if you have challenges with your horse’s back such as sore spots or high withers. You may also use one if your horse’s saddle is not a perfect fit due to its natural asymmetry. These options may reduce the severity of the problem to make things more comfortable for your horse.
No-slip pads are used under the saddle pad to prevent it from moving around too much.
Sheepskin pads mold to a horse’s back and increase air circulation, distribute pressure and impact, and naturally wick away moisture. Sheepskin pads do require special care for cleaning since they cannot be thrown in the wash — detergent will destroy them.
Wither back pads, commonly referred to as Key Hole pads, have open slots over the withers that relieve pressure on the spine and improve saddle fit.
Correction pads use removable shims so you can adjust the way the saddle sits on your horse.
Riser pads balance a saddle if it’s tilting backward or forward. They are usually made of a synthetic foam-like material designed to even out pressure and to reduce shock. They can help solve minor fit issues, but should not be used to compensate for a poorly-fitted saddle. (Here’s how to fit an English saddle properly.)
Some specialty pads are available that combine the benefits from these different pads. Once you determine what you need, look around to find the pad or pads that will provide the most benefit to you and your horse.
How To Choose the Right Saddle Pad
Your English riding discipline will largely determine the saddle pad you will use. Square pads are used for dressage, though they are used for other disciplines as well. Shaped pads are most often used for all disciplines except for dressage, though hunter and jumper often use half pads in the show ring. (Here are the best English jumping saddles.)
There are many different materials available. The temperature and humidity where you live will play into your decision of whether your horse needs a wicking material, as will personal preference.
For shaped saddle pads, you’ll want an even border of around two inches showing around the saddle. Determine the pad size by the type of saddle and the seat size (measuring from the screw heads on the pommel’s side to the middle of the cantle). Square pads should show a little in front of the pommel and behind the cantle, but the exact length depends on personal preference and what your horse needs. The other pads’ sizing depends on your horse’s specific needs.
Hands down, this one of our best selling hunter show pads. This high-end pad features Fleeceworks’ perfect balance system with removable inserts. It’s anatomically correct and versatile. The show hunter pad can be used with closed contact and all purpose saddles, and it has pockets for inserts to correct your saddle fit. The banded edges help facilitate the closest possible connection between your leg and the horse.
We love the Wilkers Fleece Edge Saddle Pad with Quilted Center because it is a great show pad with a contoured design and rolled edge. It's the perfect show pad for eq riders or for anyone looking to have the ultimate in close contact without sacrificing the comfort of the horse.
If you’re looking to spoil your horse, have we got the saddle pad for you! This EcoGold pad offers the most advanced heat dissipation technology and moisture management available with a strategically-placed air vent. It also offers fantastic shock absorption and friction protection.
If you’re looking for a custom saddle pad, you cannot beat the Ogilvy saddle pad. Choose your pad color, piping, and edging colors. This pad is quick-dry, stain resistant and features Ogilvy’s unique V-shaped top.
A Good Saddle Pad Will Protect Your Saddle and Your Horse
Though you may be tempted to skip getting a saddle pad given all of the horse tack you need, it’s best not to. It’s true, a horse should be able to use just a good-quality saddle. However, a saddle pad serves to protect your saddle as well as your horse. If the saddle is fitted well, only a thin pad will be needed, and this list of our favorites will help make your shopping easier.
It’s no secret that we love Ariat here at The Farm House. In this guide, we cover everything you need to know about the Ariat Ascent line, along with some great options to consider for your own riding wardrobe.