A saddle pad or saddle blanket provides a little extra padding between the saddle and the horse and helps keep the saddle clean. Without a saddle pad or blanket, the saddle sits directly on the horse where it absorbs sweat and collects dirt from the horse’s back. It is much easier to clean dirt or sweat off a saddle pad or blanket than it is to clean the fleece on the underside of a western saddle.
No pillow is a substitute for a well-fitting saddle. If you and your horse are constantly having problems with back pain or chafing, you should probably try other saddles instead of trying to fix the problem with another pad or blanket. Only minor saddle fit problems can be corrected with a pad.
Western saddle pads and blankets are available in a wide variety of fabrics, shapes, and colors. There are even sizes for ponies. Here’s how to find out what’s available and how to choose the right one for you.
Western Saddle Blankets
The most basic western saddle blanket is a simple long piece of thick fabric folded in half. These traditional saddle blankets come in many colorful designs and can have fringe or tassels. It is fun to choose a color that matches the color of the horse. These blankets go well with many horses and saddles and may be all you need. They are easy to clean. Most can be put in the washer and dryer or hung to dry.
The downside to these blankets is that they can slip under the saddle on some horses. They can also bunch up, which can cause sores. Because they are made of fabric, they can trap thistles and seed stalks. If you are riding in Western Pleasure classes, avoid a blanket with long fringes, as this added movement can give the impression of a choppy gait as your horse moves.
Western Saddle Pads
These pads look like a woven blanket that has already been folded. Between the top and bottom layers may be padding to absorb shock and leather straps to hold the pad in place. These pads may also be shaped to better fit the contours of the horse’s back to prevent slipping and tangling.
Some pads may have natural or synthetic fleece on the underside. Leather edges prevent wear and tear. If the center is foam, it can get quite hot for the horse’s back. Therefore, look for a breathable foam or fleece.
Pads can be difficult to wash because of their thickness. Care should be taken to ensure that the padding in the center does not harden over time. Natural fleece may not last as long as synthetic, and both tend to compact and form hard spots. Closed-cell foam can retain heat, while the open-cell foam is cooler but not as durable or shock absorbent.
Felt pads for western saddles
Felt saddle pads are not as popular as they once were. Felted wool pads have been used under saddles and backpacks for centuries. These pads come in square and shaped styles or contoured styles for a better fit. For a horse with high withers or a sloping back, a contoured pad may be the best choice. They may be reinforced with leather at the wear points.
Neoprene saddle pads for western saddles
Neoprene pads are popular for their shock-absorbing properties. The fabric of these pads is believed to keep the horse’s back cooler, and they are very easy to clean, usually requiring only a quick rinse with a hose. In addition to neoprene, these pads can have a core of gel, wool, or foam. They can be shaped and trimmed so that the pad does not stick to the horse’s withers. Some are rounded at the back to better fit a horse with a short back, such as an Arabian or a compact Quarter Horse.
Some pads are designed to compensate for slight saddle fit problems or provide more room for the withers or spine. Additional padding may be integrated into the pad, or the design may include pockets for inserts. Because neoprene is tacky, it is less likely to slip or wrinkle. These pads tend to wear out more quickly than other types. They can also retain heat, which can be uncomfortable for a horse in hot weather or during hard work.