Size and Fit:
A properly fitting pad will extend at least one inch beyond the saddle on all sides. This means that you should choose a pad that is at least 2 inches longer than the length of your saddle and 2 inches wider than the width of the underside of the skirts. A smaller pad won’t provide enough protection and can result in sores. A pad that’s too big can cause problems, too by creating excess heat and bulk.
Before each use, inspect your pad for burs, twigs, hay or other annoying things that will drive your horse crazy rubbing on his back while you ride. Think about walking around with a stone in your shoe all day. In between use, a pad needs to air out and dry completely. The best solution is to have a bar or something that you can hang the pad on. The worse thing you can do is to place the pad with the horse-side (sweaty side) down on top of your saddle. This delay drying and also transfers the moisture to your saddle. That’s just gross. If you have no other option, lay the pad with the horse-side up on your saddle. A pad needs to be cleaned regularly. Dirt, hair and sweat builds up quickly on a pad and becomes an irritant to your horse.
Some Additional Tips:
Different riding activities call for different types of pads. A roper needs maximum shock absorption. A cutter, who won’t be riding for long periods, needs only a thin blanket so that close contact is maintained. A barrel racer needs a rounded pad that’s very light. An endurance or pleasure rider needs a lighter, highly breathable pad that helps distribute the rider’s weight evenly. Like saddles, different uses require different saddle pads. Many riders mistakenly believe that the thicker the pad the better. This is a common mistake. Too much bulk under the saddle makes the saddle unstable and interferes with your contact with the horse. It also increases the amount of heat generated and the chance that you’ll have a fold or bunched up area that will cause discomfort and a sore.
Wear leathers are small strips of leather sewn onto the edge of the pads to protect against wear from the rubbing of the stirrup leathers. These are a nice addition, but shouldn’t be too thick or they’ll interfere with contact with your horse.
”Self-conforming” is a current buzzword in saddle pads. Many pads now have gels and liquids inserted to cushion and conform the pad to the horse’s back. While there are some great new technology pads out there, the concept is definitely not new. Wool and mohair are great self-conforming materials and they’ve been around for ages.
Some pads have a “cut-away” design, where the pad has a cut out for the withers. This is an especially nice option for high-withered horses that might find a full pad rubbing on the withers uncomfortable.
The bottom line remains that the better your saddle fits, the less important the saddle pad will be. Start with a good fitting saddle, add a quality pad, and you’ll have a great outfit.