Orthopedic Pads: Are They Worth It'

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No pad can correct serious saddle misfits, and back injuries heal best with rest. However, a pad may make a horse in heavy work more comfortable.

Our Western testers rode in the arena, traveled trails on day-long and overnight rides in steep terrain, and did some packing. We took inexperienced riders, weighing up to 260 pounds, out on steep mountain trails. We taught others to ride, posing more challenges for our horses’ backs.

Our test horses included chronic back problems, tendencies to get sore, and every shape of back and type of saddle fit.

We looked for a pad that:

• Improves saddle fit by distributing weight over the greatest possible area on the horse’s back.
• Maintains gullet air space; avoids pressure on withers.
• Reduces pressure points caused by unevenness in a horse’s back or saddle, including sensitive spots.
• Absorbs shock from rider to horse.
• Stays in place.
• Maintains close contact.
• Is easy to use and care for.
• Sells for a fair price.

Cashel Company Pads
• Thickness: These pads were too thick to push up into gullet, so we were unable to take pressure off the withers.
• Cushioning Rating: Above average.
• Fit/Conforms to Back: Conformed well, and saddle settled down into pad nicely.
• Sweat Rating: Average sweat.
• Heat Rating: Average.
• Absorb Sweat Rating: Cover: average.
• Slippage Rating: Saddle slipped some on mounting, but cover helped it stay in place riding.

• General Comments: The cover fit the pads perfectly. We used the 3/4” on a low-backed high-withered horse with well-fitting saddle and 200+ lb. rider with tendency to sit back going up hills. and the horse was less sore. Pad can be customized by cutting out places to relieve pressure on horse’s back/withers. Recommended for Thoroughbred-type back. Reverse wedge is good for leveling saddle on a downhill horse if saddle is wide and high enough in front (otherwise saddle will sit too high off withers). Wedge is good for horse with low back.

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Diamond Wool F13CC
• Thickness: Average
• Cushioning Rating: Average
• Fit/Conforms to Back: Pad initially stiff, but molded to the horse’s back. We would like more forgiving cutouts in the withers area, however.
• Sweat Rating: Minimizes sweat.
• Heat Rating: Minimizes heat.
• Absorb Sweat Rating: Above average.
• Slippage Rating: Average.

• General Comments: Excellent workmanship. When new, the underside wool comes off in thin rolled layers, but these are easily removed and do not compromise the pad. We like this pad for low-withered horses without back problems.

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Diamond Wool #RF32
• Thickness: Average.
• Cushioning Rating: Above average; fair amount of pressure to compress it.
• Fit/Conforms to Back: See pad above.
• Sweat Rating: Average sweat.
• Heat Rating: Minimizes heat.
• Absorb Sweat Rating: Above average.
• Slippage Rating: Average.

• General Comments: Excellent workmanship. Recommended for low-withered horse in high-impact activity to prevent concussion-related problems.

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Fabri-Tech Cush-n-Air
• Thickness: The thicker “pressure” area concentrates pressure over too small an area with an adult saddle.
• Cushioning Rating: Above average.
• Fit/Conforms to Back: Peaked well at withers. Provided gullet space, except it binds on the backbone at rear of pad.
• Sweat Rating: Below average sweat.
• Heat Rating: Below average heat.
• Absorb Sweat Rating: Average.
• Slippage Rating: Average.

• General Comments: We loved the light weight, and it kept the saddle off the withers, but we need the pad to have a wider weight-bearing surface for an adult saddle. The cushion area needs to match the saddle area. We would use the model we tested only with a child’s saddle.

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Fastrac Ideas Equi-Air System
• Thickness: Variable.
• Cushioning Rating: Above average. Distributes cushioning air, trapped in foam, anywhere the tree of the saddle distributes pressure. Helps particularly with saddle bridging and uneven pressure.
• Fit/Conforms to Back: You get an excellent fit with void areas between bars and horse filled with air and foam. Adapts to different horses and saddles well. Withers space preserved.
• Sweat Rating: Above average sweat.
• Heat Rating: Average
• Absorb Sweat Rating: Fleece wicks away sweat.
• Slippage Rating: Average.

• General Comments: The process of adjusting the air content is involved, but the directions are clear. Pad helped horse with low back and razor-like withers. Good choice when saddle and horse are not exact fit and rider is willing to spend time to correct this situation.Fair price.

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Hartmeyer No-Slip
• Thickness: Relatively thin.
• Cushioning Rating: Little cushion.
• Fit/Conforms to Back: The shape lends itself to round-backed horses. Ribbing material on the edges of the pad restricts lift on moderate withers.
• Sweat Rating: Above average. Sweat serves as lubricant. Air flow likely through the mesh.
• Heat Rating: Above average.
• Absorb Sweat Rating: Non-absorbent.
• Slippage Rating: Did not slip, even when other pads did.

• General Comments: Pad made “lines” on the horse under a pack saddle, child’s saddle (50-lb. rider), and adult (180-lb.) and developed fold under gullet after moderate use. But, we recommend this pad to prevent slipping saddle and cinching problems on round-backed horse who has no orthopedic saddle-pad needs.

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Horse Feathers Feather Flex H72051
• Thickness: Relatively thin.
• Cushioning Rating: Relatively less.
• Fit/Conforms to Back: Fits fine on low- to moderate-withered horses.
• Sweat Rating: Average sweat.
• Heat Rating: Average.
• Absorb Sweat Rating: Average.
• Slippage Rating: Stayed in place.

• General Comments: Pad developed a fold along the gullet on horse’s surface after moderate use. This is a useful show pad for horses without orthopedic needs.

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Horse Feathers Ortho Plus H72050TO
• Thickness: Moderately thick.
• Cushioning Rating: Required considerable pressure to get it to compress.
• Fit/Conforms to Back: Fit one wide-backed, mutton-withered horse with saddle that was wide for him. When a better-fitting saddle was used, the pad was too thick. Pad tended to bridge, with pressure on withers and loins only.
• Sweat Rating: Not rated.
• Heat Rating: Not rated.
• Absorb Sweat Rating: Not rated.
• Slippage Rating: Slipped sideways due to pad’s stiffness (pushes saddle off back).

• General Comments: Not recommended.

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Just Merino Sheepskin/JMS Products
• Thickness: Relatively thin.
• Cushioning Rating: Moderate.
• Fit/Conforms to Back: Excellent.
• Sweat Rating: Minimize sweat.
• Heat Rating: Minimize heat.
• Absorb Sweat Rating: Average; wicks sweat away.
• Slippage Rating: Did not slip.

• General Comments: One mare who moved laterally going downhill had chronic rubs from her previous pad. With the same saddle and this pad, the rubs cleared up. Pad requires additional care and has a significant but fair price. We highly recommend this pad to help heal and pamper a horse.

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Professional’s Choice SMX1-32
• Thickness: Average.
• Cushioning Rating: Moderate cushion.
• Fit/Conforms to Back: Fit well.
• Sweat Rating: Above average sweat.
• Heat Rating: Average.
• Absorb Sweat Rating: Average, plus wicks sweat away somewhat.
• Sl ippage Rating: Did not slip.

• General Comments: Exceptional quality materials; thoughtfully made with fleece not extending to the edge of the pad. Pad is stiffer than others. Recommended for show where additional shock absorption is needed, if you don’t mind the price.

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Royal Riders W-21
• Thickness: Thicker than average, but our saddles settled well into place.
• Cushioning Rating: Above average.
• Fit/Conforms to Back: Conformed well.
• Sweat Rating: Average sweat.
• Heat Rating: Average.
• Absorb Sweat Rating: Average.
• Slippage Rating: Did not slip.

• General Comments: This saddle pad gives a nice cushion with a properly fitted saddle. Well-priced saddle pad. Recommended.

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ThinLine Pad 103
• Thickness: Relatively thin (designed for use between saddle and regular pad).
• Cushioning Rating: Excellent.
• Fit/Conforms to Back: Flexible. Conforms well. Did wrinkle, but manufacturer suggests cutting larger holes for specific cases.
• Sweat Rating: Above average.
• Heat Rating: Above average.
• Absorb Sweat Rating: Not absorbent (used alone).
• Slippage Rating: Stayed between pad and saddle well.

• General Comments: One sore-backed horse improved tremendously with this pad. Used it over custom-cut bottom pad with holes at withers and spine trouble spots. Recommended for added shock absorption over entire back. Thin enough to not change the saddle fit significantly.

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Toklat Originals Equigel #14-201
• Thickness: Moderate.
• Cushioning Rating: Pad did not compress easily.
• Fit/Conforms to Back: Somewhat stiff but adequate.
• Sweat Rating: Not rated.
• Heat Rating: Not rated.
• Absorb Sweat Rating: Below average.
• Slippage Rating: Not rated.

• General Comments: Gel pad added more weight than we want our horses to carry, required too much pressure to compress. Expensive. Not recommended.

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Toklat Originals Magnum Felt #40-842W
• Thickness: Average.
• Cushioning Rating: Above average. Fair amount of pressure necessary to compress it.
• Fit/Conforms to Back: Adequate.
• Sweat Rating: Average sweat.
• Heat Rating: Minimizes heat.
• Absorb Sweat Rating: Above average.
• Slippage Rating: Stayed in place when shaped to back.

• General Comments: Recommended for horses in high-impact activities to prevent concussion-related back problems.

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Toklat Originals Woolback #18-105U
• Thickness: Moderately thick. Saddle fit well down into pad.
• Cushioning Rating: Excellent cushion; foam follows back contour well.
• Fit/Conforms to Back: Foam inserts extend from below gullet (good clearance) down to above fender/cinch area (close contact). In cold temperatures, foam gets stiff on rack but warms on the horse.
• Sweat Rating: Minimizes sweat.
• Heat Rating: Minimizes heat.
• Absorb Sweat Rating: Absorbed some moisture and wicked the rest.
• Slippage Rating: Did not slip.

• General Comments: One test horse had an old, hard, rubbed lump on his loin. With pad, hair began to return. Foam can be trimmed on sides of withers to allow for more room or a hole could be cut on the loin area to allow for an old injury. Highly recommended for sore backs and to prevent sore backs.

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Whinny Widgets Classic Impakt
• Thickness: Moderate.
• Cushioning Rating: Moderate. One horse with spinal/muscle soreness was markedly more comfortable with this pad.
• Fit/Conforms to Back: Flexible enough to conform to low and medium withers. Pad did not peak at saddle gullet. Cut-back area put front ribbing on withers,which we felt was potential for rubbing. Must store according to directions (flat or rolled)?''we stored it under the saddle and it developed a wrinkle that persisted during one ride.
• Sweat Rating: Above average sweat, but not in spinal area.
• Heat Rating: Above average.
• Absorb Sweat Rating: Not absorbent.
• Slippage Rating: Did not slip.

• General Comments: Sensitive, cinchy horses may react with irritation when saddling. Recommended for some cases of muscle soreness, but not for horse needing withers relief or horses with sensitive skin.

Bottom Line
The Toklat Woolback, with the Ultracell Inserts, is the most versatile for problem prevention and for protecting sore backs, hence it is our top choice. It’s worth the price to us.

If you need a custom pad to heal or pamper your horse, we don’t think you can beat the 100% wool pad from Just Merino.

Our Best Buy?''when you want to add a thin layer of shock absorption to your existing one- or two-pad system?''is the ThinLine 103 pad.

Also With This Article
Click here to view ”Orthopedic Saddle Pads Description And Care.”

Contact Your Local Tack Store Or:

Cashel Company
446 Gore Rd.
Onalaska, WA 98570
800/333-2202
cashelco@i-link-2.net

Diamond Wool
128 Singleton St.
Woonsocket, RI 02895
800/833-7237

Fabri-Tech Inc.
13333 Britton Park Rd.
Fishers, IN 46038
800/332-4797

Fastrac Ideas, Inc.
PO Box 2579
High Springs, FL 32655
800/496-4101

Hartmeyer Saddlery
7111 W. Bethel Ave.
Muncie, IN 47304
800/225-5519
www.hartmeyer.com

Horse Feathers
PO Box 5487
Tucson, AZ 85703
800/477-7789 ext. 2311

JMS Products
5090 W. Horseshoe Ln.
McNeal, AZ 85617-9720
800/323-9665
www.jmsproducts.com

Professional’s Choice
2709 Via Orange Way
Spring Valley, CA 91978
800/331-9421
www.profchoice.com

Royal Riders
120-A Mast Street
Morgan Hill, CA 95037
800/437-6676
www.royalriders.com

ThinLine Pads
4324 West Cornwallis Road
Durham, NC 27705
800/732-7237

Toklat Originals
PO Box 488
Lake Oswego, OR 97034
800/452-2277
www.toklat.com

Whinny Widgets
Rt. 4, Box 4848
Monticello, FL 32344
800/814-0141
www.whinnywidgets.com