So many half pads, correction pads, shim pads are out there, what do you choose, and what do you use? Another guide to what to buy. “Ugh, these can get sooo long.” Yes, but admit it, you always learn something. “Fine, but I’m not giving up my new fancy Ogilvy pad that I bought at the Black Friday sale.”
Who doesn’t love half pads? I have a bunch of different types of half pads, and have had a number of them over the years. There are people out there that say if you saddle fits right, you don’t need correction pads. These people are correct. However, when you are like me and have multiple horses, and a desire to have less stuff in my tack room, this doesn’t always work. Ideally, you would have 1-2 wool flocked saddles per horse, properly fitted and stuffed to fit that horse. “I ain’t got that kinda money! Do I look like I just won the lottery?” No, you don’t, neither do I. There is another issue with this, if you have a young horse who is growing and changing, your saddle has to grow and change with the young horse. Ideally you should have a saddle fitter look at your saddle every 6 months due to changing shapes. This has happened to me with Lily.
Less than a year ago I bought an Ovation monoflap saddle, it has inter-changeable gullets. The saddle came with a medium gullet but it did not fit Lily, so I ordered a wide, that fit but the saddle was a bit low on the front end. Well, now what? A front riser pad, just this past weekend though, I noticed 2 dry spots on her back, so I pulled the riser pad, and the saddle fits. “Well good for you, but I still want that Oglivy…”
With so many options out there, what do you choose? Well it depends on what you need a few ground rules though;
- Adding or removing a pad, will change the fit of your saddle
- If you have 2 horses, one that needs a wide tree and one that needs a narrow, either buy 2 saddles or buy a saddle to fit the wide horse and add pads to fit the narrow horse.
- The pommel and the cantle of your saddle should be at the same height
- If you are seeing dry spots on your horse’s back, you have pressure points and your saddle doesn’t fit
- There are a number of saddle fitters out there, if you are a beginner, or don’t understand, get help, they can even recommend correction pads if necessary.
- All pads should be pulled up into the gullet of your saddle to prevent compression on the spine, it’s not as much of an issue at the back of the saddle but up near the withers, ensure there is a lot of clearance.
“Boring, I wanna know about pads!” Ok well I have made a handy dandy list below.
- Lollipop Pad – usually made of foam or fleece covered foam, this lifts the back of the saddle, if your cantle is low, you might consider one of these. The thing I don’t like about lollipop pads is that the “stick” part of the pad goes up in the gullet of the saddle which is where your horse’s spine goes, thus putting compression on the spine, there are newer better options out there. Early form of saddle fit correction pads.
- Pommel Pad – oval pad either knit or fleece, like the lollipop, these have been around for for-ev-ver and are used to lift the front of the saddle if your pommel is too low. These are only 12″ long and are cheap but they only cover the first few inches on either side of your saddle panel and if you aren’t careful, they can get tight and put pressure on the withers. Also a first generation of saddle fit correction pads. Don’t throw it away though, it would make a great Barbie area rug or a Barbie blanket.
- Wedge Pad – Usually foam – Just as the name describes they are wedge shaped, usually thicker at the back but they have front wedges as well. These are the second generation correction pads, they provide lift but there is more pad to provide support to the entire panel and are less likely to bind on the spine.
- Riser/Lift Pad – Usually foam – They have thicker foam in targeted areas (front or back) and usually have a wither relief shape, these are the 3rd generation of correction pads. This is the one I recommend if you are looking for a cheap correction pad as these will run you about $30
- Shim Pads – These are so hot right now. I have seen all kinds of shim pads, fleece, quilted, the super popular leather. The idea behind these is that there are pockets built into the top of the pad that allow you to add “shims” that are either felt or foam in the location needed, some offer only front or back shims but others offer center shims too. This allows you to customize your fit instead of a “one size fits all” pad, and it can be modified to fit different horses so if you decide to upgrade from Fluffy Pony to Buddy Horse, you don’t need a new pad.
- Anti-Slip Pads – These are pretty self explanatory. They are usually a thin piece of foam or a suede that is put between the saddle and the horse, this is to help prevent slipping, I haven’t needed these as my horses have fairly prominent withers. They work ok but not as well as equipment like cruppers and breastplates and most half pads have some form of anti-slip built in already. Such as the suede on the Ogilvy pads, and the “tacky” surface of gel.
“All of that is nice but my saddle fits…I don’t need to fix anything, I just want more padding!” Well, as stated before, adding a pad will adjust the fit of the saddle, if you add thick pads, you can in essence convert your wide saddle to a medium or possibly a narrow. I don’t recommend trying to go from a wide to a narrow but a wide to medium or medium to narrow is doable. I will warn you, if you have a rolly polly pony, and you add a nice thick half pad, plus a saddle pad, you will have a bad day. “Why, I just want Fluffy pony to have lots of soft squishy padding! How dare you take that away from my wonderful Fluffy Pony, he didn’t even buck me off at the last horse show, he deserves it.” That may be so but by adding all of that squish, you “fill” in the space between the panels taking away the anatomy of the saddle that helps hold it in place. All the sudden you need a crupper to keep your saddle from going up on Fluffy’s neck and every 5 minutes you are having to step in one stirrup or another to put your saddle back in the center of your horse. So when choosing a half pad, keep in mind that thicker is not always better. If you are trying to “pad” your wide tree to a medium, that is when you want a thick pad. Now to the different types.
- Fleece pads – These are great for padding your saddle down to a narrower tree. There are real sheepskin ones, which tend to be a bit thicker and more plush, these can help minor fit issues like pressure points and add padding to help distribute impacts such as landing hard after a jump. Costs between $30 for sythetics to $250-$300 for custom options
- Gel pads – Think Jello Jigglers, These will help with minor fit issues like pressure points and provide a good impact cushion as the gel “flows” away from the impact. You can get just gel or gel with fleece. The gel can also have holes in it which will allow the gel to flex and allows airflow. Stuff sticks to gel, like dirt and hair, they can get hot under the saddle and it is heavy. Use a “Fabric type pad” between this and the horse, or a cover. They have come up with less “liquid” gels which you can find in the Acavallo memory foam and gel pad, this is more firm than a regular gel pad but still provides benefits. Cost $50-250.
- Closed Cell Foam – These are fairly universal and cheap, they rebound nicely thus provide impact cushion, just like those mats they used in gym when we were kids. Also used in furniture, think about your couch cushion. This is what the early foam pads and foam riser pads are made out of. These can get hot so be sure you use a “fabric type pad” between this and the horse. They are not the best at helping with pressure points but are better than nothing. Cost $30-50
- Memory foam – This is your Ogilvy, Equifit, Acavallo and many other popular pads. Memory foam reacts differently than regular foam, it gets “softer” with heat so this is great for pressure points. This foam compresses and stays compressed so it’s more of a formed fit. If you have a thick one of these, check your girth after you get on, it will usually need to go up a hole after you compress the pad. Since this foam does not rebound it is not great for impacts, if you have ever slept on a memory foam bed, you know there is no bounce so jumping on it is no fun at all, same thing goes for your horse’s back, once the foam is compressed, the impact transfers directly to their back. I have a thick Equifit pad for Emma that I use in conjunction with a foam front lift pad since my saddle is a wide tree for round Lily. Cost $50-250
- Leather Pads – These are super popular right now, I like them because they are easy to clean. What is inside those pads? Foam… a very thin layer of foam. $250-425
- Open Cell Foam – like Thinline, it will collapse like closed cell foam but not spring back as quickly, it will conform more than closed cell but rebounds to provide impact protection. Kind of like closed cell foam and memory foam had a baby. I have a Thinline bareback pad and recommend it to everyone. As the name suggests, the pad is thin if you get just the foam so it will provide benefits without adding thickness, which could change your saddle fit. $70-300
I have used some form of all of these pads over the years, and own all of them except gel, which I have owned in the past but decided the other options suit my needs better, and the leather pad because let’s face it, they are crazy expensive. Since I have a foam flocked jumping saddle and those are built as a one size fits none, I use a normal Equifit pad on Lily and Emma gets the thick Equifit pad with the closed cell foam front riser pad. My dressage saddle has Cair panels, the old ones that were just air, so I add either a sheepskin pad or the Equifit to help with any fit issues. In the end, choosing the right pad depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Technology has come a long way in the last 30 years and will continue into the future, old style pads aren’t the worst thing but new styles may be better, consider all of your options when choosing a pad. As with helmets and safety vests, pads with foam in them will degrade over time, they will not perform as well. Thinline states 7-9 years on their products. Mine are all less than 5 years so I am ok for a while but if you have a 20 year old foam pad laying around, time to pitch it.
Disclaimer: I do not sell saddles, saddle pads, half pads, tack of any kind unless used by me first.