I spend money on saddle pads. They last longer (I have many that are over 40 years old, and still use them today) and are usually based on careful planning and design. I have two of Clinton Anderson’s pads that have a pressure release system, and they are wonderful. I also have a very thick, old pure wool and leather pad. It does cause a horse to sweat a little more, but I like it for long rides and cool days. It does take a lot of maintenance to keep it clean. I also have this really great system – the heavy wool blanket doubles back with sewn edges and Velcro back. You can change the thickness of the foam insert, and can adjust this to the horse you are riding. It’s great for me when I have to ride multiple horses every day at various farms.
Do not use thin saddle pads, especially if you have to double them over. They tend to wrinkle and have trouble laying flat on the horses back. Try not to get a pad that is too thick, as it may create unnecessary bounce or spring.
When you put the pad on, ‘load’ it up higher and slide it down into place. Just like the saddle you fitted without the pad, it allows the hair to lie properly. I like to have more pad in the front than the back: I usually like 1 inch showing at the back. It looks tidier and it shows off the horse better. I try to buy pads that fit my saddles. Place your saddle into position and just before you draw the cinch to tighten, put your hand under the pad at the front, and draw it up into the gullet. This creates an air space that will keep your horse’s back cool, and keep the pad from rubbing the wither.
Saddle pads can’t take the place of a good fit, but they can accommodate an unusual back. There are many styles of ‘lifts’ and additions to pad up a horse that may be sway-backed, roach-backed or have a high wither. There are also custom saddles out there made for special backs. Mutton withered or excessively overweight horses will need a non-conventional fit also. Buying an extra wide saddle is not the answer for the ‘chubbies’.
How to tell when the saddle doesn’t fit
During riding, you may find your horse has any one or combination of these problems:
• – Hollow back or elevate head
• – Crankiness, stubborn attitude or anxiety
• – Irritated when asking for canter/lope
• – An elevated canter that feels like a small succession of bucks (pigrooting)
• – Inability to engage hind end
• – The saddle slides back too far from the shoulder
Signs on the ground:
• – Muscle atrophy at the sides of his withers
• – Swelling after riding
• – Uncomfortable being brushed
• – White hairs forming from the pressure closing off blood supply to tissues
If a saddle fits properly you will not need to use breastplates and cruppers, unless you are doing a great deal of pleasure riding in steeper terrain.
Many trainers use them if they are performing high speed and quick maneuvers, or they just look good on their horses.
This should give you enough information to make a proper assessment of your saddle.