Most riders know almost instinctively when a saddle is too far back. As a matter of fact, many riders overcompensate for this by actually placing the saddle too far forward on their horse. But too far forward is as bad as too far back, as the saddle will interfere with the horse’s shoulder movement.
Even if initially placed properly, some saddles seem to slide forward or backward on their own. We realize that proper saddle fit is supposed to solve this problem — and we emphasize that there is no quick fix for a poorly fitting saddle — but we also know the reality is that some riders must deal with a saddle that slides out of place despite their best efforts.
We focused this article specifically on saddles that slip forward. Saddles that slip backward are easier to identify and to remedy, whether with a breastplate, tighter girth, bump pad or the no-slip pads we’ll talk about here. The equivalent of a breastplate for forward slip is a crupper, which is rarely seen except on ponies or mules. If a horse isn’t going to wear a crupper, then a specialized girth or some sort of no-slip pad will be required to prevent forward slip. Often the forward slip is more insidious than overt, and a good no-slip pad will solve the problem.
A saddle that works its way to the horse’s shoulders causes discomfort for the horse. The shoulder blades have little protective flesh, so any pressure or weight bearing in that area will quickly cause soreness and bruising. Pressure on the backs of the shoulders from a narrow saddle can create soreness that leads to behavioral problems such as bucking or “girthiness.” A horse who misbehaves when being saddled and girthed may be trying to tell you something — he knows what comes next involves pain to some degree.
It well could be soreness in the girth area, so check for minor swellings, rubs and warm areas that may indicate early bruising or inflammation. But more often than not, the horse experiences soreness because the front of the saddle is either too narrow, pinching into him like a vise, or the saddle itself rides forward and rests too much weight on the shoulder area.
If you experience girth soreness, you should always stretch your horse’s shoulders by pulling each upper leg forward. This will pull any folds of skin out from under the girth. At the same time, you can look to see if the shoulder rotates back too much under the flap, similar to when the horse is moving, and correct the problem before you mount.
A saddle that slides too far forward also causes stability problems for the rider. The horse’s shoulder area is unsteady, since he constantly uses his shoulder as he moves. In addition, a saddle that continues to slide forward could put the rider ahead of the horse’s center of balance so that he or she topples onto the neck or over the horse’s head if he stops or puts his head down.
Cruppers are effective, but they aren’t necessarily the best solution for your horse, and they can cause some restriction of the back if too tight. Anti-slip saddle pads and girths may be better choices, so we decided to try several items to see what we found most effective.
The Cashel Reverse Wedge Pad ($37) is made of closed-cell black foam rubber that is 1 ??” thick at the front and tapers to ??” at the back. This pad is designed to lift the front of the saddle off the withers, keeping the saddle from sliding forward.
This pad does an excellent job of addressing the symptom of forward saddle-slip, and the cushioning effect makes it ideal for horses who are sore from repeatedly having the saddle jammed into them. It also solves the temporary problem for a rider who’s saddle seat is going downhill because the saddle is too wide and/or the horse’s muscle beside the withers is atrophied so that the saddle rides too low there.
This material is soft and comfy, and horses love it. While the manufacturer claims some pads have remained in use 10 years — and there’s no question the pad is durable — we recommend checking the cushiness against a new one every year and replacing it if in doubt. Note: This pad could change the fit of some saddles by virtue of its thickness. Watch for undue pressure in the withers area when using it.
Nunn Finer No-Slip Pad ($21.95) is made of a one-quarter-inch-thick black rubber. It’s square, with round holes cut in the middle for ventilation, and thin enough not to change the fit of our saddle.
The No-Slip Pad did just that. No saddles we tried it with moved. Not only was there no forward slipping, there was no sideways or backward slipping either. We didn’t even encounter slipping on ponies notorious for that problem. The company suggests putting the saddle right where you want it when you tack up because the saddle will not slide once it is on and girthed. We agree. We used this pad successfully with no other pad and with another pad between it and the saddle.
Professional’s Choice Air-Ride Pad ($89.95) has an air-suspension system made up of tiny small air pockets in a multi-cell configuration. The system is designed to prevent pressure on your horse’s back and to absorb shock. It is also designed to be anti-slip, and our saddles didn’t slide forward with this pad. Our horses also seemed to agree that the pad was comfortable and soft.
The pad is designed for maximum close contact and conforms well to our regular saddles (it may be a bit thick for narrow saddles). It’s quite durable and well-made. The pad has an antimicrobial material on the underside to discourage the buildup of bacterial bugs.
The Kensington Saddle Pad KBVAP ($65.99) is an all-purpose breathable velvet pad. The Textilene mesh top (the PVC-like material often found in fly sheets) is designed for airflow, while the velvet is designed to be comfortable for the horse. Much to our surprise, the velvet did a good job holding our saddle in place. However, we would like the seam on this pad changed, as it currently runs under the weight-bearing part of the saddle rather than the middle of the panel.
The Kensington Saddle Pad KBTAP ($42.99) has a Textilene top with a quilted cotton bottom, while the Kensington Saddle Pad KBCAP ($38.99) has a heavy poly-cotton bottom. Both are nice, sturdy pads, great for regular use but did little to solve saddle-slip problems.
The County Logic Girth ($195) is a slightly W-shaped leather girth with elastic at each end. As you might expect at this price, it’s extraordinarily well-made and durable. The buckles are high-quality metal and have rollers on the ends, which are superior for ease in tightening girths.
We tried this girth on several horses and large ponies and found it worked well on all. Neither the girth nor the saddles slid forward, and we didn’t find ourselves trying to over-tighten this girth so the saddle would stay in place. Our horses also seemed to find this well-padded girth comfortable, and we appreciate the double-elastic girth ends. It’s avail able in long and short styles/sizes.
Care must be taken in fitting the Logic girth, as there’s a right way and a wrong way. The girth is designed to allow ample room for the horse’s elbow, so you must select a girth size that allows this area to correspond with the elbow area of the horse or pony for optimal fit and comfort.
The Professional’s Choice SMx Girth ($64.95) consists of a waffle-patterned Neoprene strip attached with hook-and-loop fasteners to a regular woven-nylon girth with elastic at each buckle end. The Neoprene is limestone-based for longevity, although these pieces are replaceable.
The waffled Neoprene goes on the horse side of the girth and does a good job preventing saddle slippage initially. However, on some horses we felt the gripping effect lessened as the horse sweated more. This is a double-edge sword, as Neoprene girths are designed to encourage sweat, which is a natural lubricant, to help prevent girth galls. The girth is designed to move with the horse, giving a comfortable gripping action. And, indeed, our horses found this girth comfortable. It’s available in long and short sizes.
Although this is not a contoured girth, which we tend to favor for extra room at the elbow area, we did find that this girth flexes well at the elbow and the material is soft and comfortable. Horses normally ridden in non-contoured leather girths seemed more comfortable in the SMx girth. The materials are high quality, and the workmanship is top-notch.
The Nunn Finer Over Girth ($35.95) is made of strong worsted wool from England with German elastic ends. It has a seven-inch piece of elastic sewn onto one end plus a leather strap with holes on that end and a buckle sewn onto the other.
This girth did nothing to prevent the saddle from sliding forward, but the manufacturer said it is actually helpful in preventing the back of the saddle from sliding, which event and steeplechase riders appreciate. Event riders also use over girths as insurance in case their regular girth breaks.
None of these products will replace proper saddle fit and placement. However, if you have ensured that your saddle is well fitted to your horse, they can be helpful if the saddle still slips forward.
Without question, the Nunn Finer No-Slip pad is our top pick. At $21.95, it’s also our overall Best Buy.
However, we’d also strongly consider investing in the County Logic girth. We realize $195 is quite an outlay, but it’s made of beautiful leather and, with proper care, it should last an extremely long time.
If your budget prevents the Logic girth, the Professional’s Choice SMx girth is also a solid choice at a third of the price.
For horses already battling soreness, we recommend you consider either the Cashel pad or the Professional’s Choice Air-Ride pad, both of which offer extreme comfort for your horse’s back.