The saddle pad you use can make a significant difference to a horse's comfort and ability to work. Clearly the impact is not as great as an ill-fitting saddle, but the effect of a pad is often overlooked.
Many articles on saddle fitting, and even some saddlers, do not discuss pads, but this is something that can lead to problems. No matter how well a saddle fits, a pad can cause problems if it does not suit the saddle or the horse.
When you get your saddle fitted, or you fit it yourself, it is done without anything underneath, but if you are keen to use a certain paid, it is important to take this into account to make sure it does not affect the fit of the saddle. The same applies when you have your saddle checked.
Being aware of ongoing changes in your horse's shape is most important. Most people have a saddle fitted when they purchase a horse and/or when the horse comes into work after a period at rest, but it must be remembered that he or she is bound to change shape with work. Even when your horse is fit and taking part in competitions it can, and does, change shape. Regular saddle checks should be on your list of must do's.?
If your horse has changed shape, a good pad can help alleviate detrimental effects on the back before a saddle is amended or changed, but it should not be used in the longer term to make the saddle fit.
"It is a surprisingly common illusion that the use of a pad or, more often a number of pads, will make a saddle fit a horse, but it simply does not work like that," says Mary Bromiley, Chartered Physiotherapist FCSP, SRP, RPT (USA).
"If you were told to jog five or six miles in shoes that either pinched because they were too small or your feet slopped about in because they were too big you would rapidly acquire sore feet. While the addition of thick socks in the "too small" shoes might achieve a little comfort, in the long term they will only increase the pinching effect. In the "too large" shoes, the friction of your feet slithering around would result in blisters,"- said Mary.
Saddle pads are available in a breathtaking variety of shapes, materials and colours, so how do you choose the right one for your horse?
First and foremost, the fit is everything. Many saddlers find that the most common problems caused by pads are pressure on the withers and sore areas caused by the binding.
A saddle pad cut in a straight line is not following the contours of a horse's back and inevitably presses down on the wither or catches along the back. In addition to complementing the back shape, a contoured pad also allows the rider to ensure it is sitting properly into the gullet of the saddle.
The problem of rubbing caused by the binding is due to a saddle pad that is too small or the wrong shape for a saddle. Many pads are bound around the perimeter and if the pad is not big enough and the saddle sits on the edge, you are likely to have a problem. You can make a horse sore in this way within 20 minutes -- and give yourself a much longer term problem because you then have to work around the sore patch or stop working the horse.
Getting the right shape is just as important. With the large selection of saddle styles now on offer, there is a need to find pads to suit them. For example, many people who event or ride cross country use a forward cut saddle. Using a standard all purpose shape pad has the potential to cause problems as the binding sites underneath the saddle flap and rubs, so a forward cut design is crucial.
Saddle pad fit can also be affected by the positioning of the girth straps and the pad web straps. These not only make fitting the pad correctly difficult, but they can also make the rider?s life awkward by impeding easy access to the girth.
When choosing your saddle pad, it is very important to check that the fabric or materials used are good quality, have the ability to absorb moisture, are easy to keep clean and are not too thick. This last point is to ensure that the pad is able to mold to the horse?s back and the shape of the saddle to provide the highest levels of comfort for the horse. A pad that is too thick can make a saddle sit too tightly over the trapezius muscle behind the shoulder blade, making it sore. A too-thick pad can also cause a reduction in blood supply to the muscles, especially where horses are being ridden for a prolonged period, resulting in muscle wastage, soreness and loss of action.
The absorbability of a material is crucial to avoid rubbing. Many fabrics claim to wick away moisture, but it?s worth looking at how much they can remove and how long it takes for a fabric to get wet and start causing problems.
Whichever saddle pad you select, it shouldn't be chosen because it is the cheapest, the prettiest or the one you think looks cool. It should be the one that gives your horse the highest levels of comfort and enables him or her to work to the best of his/her ability. Any good saddler will agree.
Ian Pocock set up Griffin NuuMed nearly 20 years ago and it now has a reputation for being at the forefront of saddle pad design. The company has more than 35 different styles of pads in its NuuMed, ProPad and HiWither ranges, all designed by Ian. Griffin NuuMed was the first company to produce a high-wither design and is eligible to use the Woolmark on its many wool designs. Ian has ridden all his life. His great love is racing and he had many successes point-to-pointing in England. He now fox hunts regularly.