Despite the deceptive simplicity of this question, there is much debate over it in the equestrian world. Originally, the saddle pad was intended to suit one basic need: to protect expensive saddle leather from dirt and sweat. As the role of the horse has shifted from a work animal to a high-performance athlete, the needs of riders, and of the equipment riders use
, have altered.
With modern medical expertise and technology guiding their fabrication, saddle pads have undergone a dramatic evolution in both form and function. Now, along with keeping the saddle dry, they are used to alter its fit on the horse, reduce the concussive forces acting on horse and rider spines, and even provide an element of fashion.
Any horse being ridden in a saddle that does not fit well will ultimately show a basic set of symptoms including soreness along the spine. Many riders’ first reaction to a horse’s sore back is to grab the cushiest, squishiest pad they can find and shove it underneath their saddles. In some cases this is helpful; but consider this: if your leather shoes are too tight, what would putting on thick wool socks feel like? It should be obvious that when a saddle is squeezing, thicker padding is NOT the answer. Not to mention too much padding can make securing the saddle more difficult and hence more likely to slip or roll, while also obstructing the rider’s feel.
Another common mis-correction of a saddle fit issue happens when a rider observes a specific point of soreness under his/her saddle and selects a gel pad to reduce it. Unfortunately for the horse, gel is a liquid, and responds as liquids do under pressure — it moves! The gel inside the pad shifts away from pressure, exacerbating the hot spot as it slides.
While it is always best to ride in a saddle that fits perfectly, sometimes it’s simply not an option. Whether it is an issue of anatomy (some horses have unique conformations that no conventional saddle will fit) or economics, certain saddle pads can offer the performance and protection riders desire without breaking the bank.
Pads cannot fix a saddle that is too tight. However, when rocking or asymmetry is the issue, ThinLine’s saddle pads offer a shimmable shock protection that is healthy for both horse and rider’s backs. As a horse works through a program, its conformation changes, muscling up and becoming more fit. If taken out of work the same horse will again change shape. Saddle pads, such as ThinLine’s, that allow the rider to modify the support to maintain proper fit can keep a favorite saddle useful while still protecting the horse.
For horses with chronically tight muscles along their backs, using a pad that increases blood flow can make a dramatic difference in a short amount of time. The Back on Track brand pads are excellent for this condition.
The key to maintaining the health of your spine and your horse’s is to remember this: no one answer to all saddle fit issues exists. Each horse in each saddle is a unique situation. Whether it is protection from shock or from a saddle that used to fit and now does not, look for companies that recognize the importance of a proper fit, and products that give you the flexibility to adapt to change.
Visit Equalign Chiropractic Systems, www.equalign.com