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Saddle Pads: A Cushion of Comfort

Use these expert tips to find the saddle pad that will help keep your horse comfortable on the trail, as well as help prevent back soreness.

Horse Saddle
A good-fitting, comfortable pad will have contours that correspond to the contours of your horse

Your horse doesn't care whether his saddle pad is Stone Age or Space Age, or whether it costs $30 or $300. He just wants to be comfortable and to have a horse saddle pad that prevents back soreness in horses. Here, we give you six ways to enhance saddle-pad comfort.

1. Use one saddle pad. It's best to use one pad, and the thinnest pad possible. Stacked pads will first lift the saddle too high. Then, as the pads compress, they'll create painful pressure points on your horse's back by the end of the ride. On your ride, the pads will likely slip and slide, compromising stability and painfully rubbing against your horse's skin.  Using one saddle pad is important to prevent back soreness in horses.

2. Find the right size. Your pad needs to be the right size, shape, and thickness. A pad that's too short or too long, too thick or too thin, or shaped to lie along a straight fence rail rather than a horse's back will not prevent back soreness in horses. If your horse has distinct withers, a pad that's cut straight along the spine will create painful wither pressure.  Again, it is important that the saddle is the right size otherwise it will result in a sore back.

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3. Match the contours. A good-fitting, comfortable pad will have contours that correspond to the contours of your horse's back and your saddle's underside so it won't put pressure on your horse's withers or spine. It'll extend past the edge of the saddle, all the way around — but, like a good saddle, it won't extend past your horse's last rib. If it's too long, it'll likely rub and press against your horse's hips. And, if it's a heavy or stiff saddle pad, your horse's hind legs will push pad and saddle forward.

4. Watch saddle fit. Be careful when attempting to use a pad to improve saddle fit. If your saddle is too narrow, no pad will help — you need a different saddle. The same is true if your saddle is too long or too wide for your horse, if the angle of the bars (the part of the Western tree that lie along either side of your horse's spine) or the points (the ends of the pommel arch at the front of an English tree) don't match your horse's shoulder angles, or if your saddle's underside doesn't match your horse's back profile.

If your saddle is too wide for your horse, pads can help improve the fit temporarily. This can be helpful if you're building up an unfit horse that will have a wider back in a few months, when he muscles up. If your horse is unevenly developed, a customizable pad with shims or a comfort system may help you even out the saddle fit and make your horse more comfortable.

5. Alleviate pressure. When you place your saddle on the pad, always pull the front of the pad straight up, away from your horse's withers and into the front of the saddle. If the pad lies flat, saddle pressure will cause rubbing and will interfere with your horse's movement.

6. Adjust to change. Since your horse's back is always changing, your saddle pad may need to change too. Even if your saddle fits well, you may need several different types and thicknesses of pads at different times of year — for instance, when your horse is soft and fat after a winter without work, when he's losing fat and beginning spring workouts, and when he's building up bigger, stronger muscles after a few months of work.

Jessica Jahiel, PhD (www.jessicajahiel.com), is an internationally recognized clinician and lecturer, and an award-winning author of books on horses, riding, and training. Her e-mail newsletter (www.horse-sense.org) is a popular worldwide resource.

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