Nothing can compete with a balanced and well-fitting saddle that provides comfort and freedom of movement for your horse. However, it can be tricky to find a perfectly fitting saddle on a budget or for a horse with an unconventional back.
A half pad can correct fit or provide for a suitable compromise, and there are several options on the market today.
A common mistake is adding a saddle pad because of the perception that they provide extra padding and therefore extra comfort. However, adding extra padding to an already well-fitting saddle can actually make the horse more uncomfortable because the pad tightens the fit.
There’s a time and place for corrective saddle pads and we investigate these further in this article.
Half pads should be used as a temporary solution to resolve fitting or balance problems with a saddle.
There are several types of half pads on the market that serve very specific purposes. Most commonly, half pads are used under the following circumstances:
Sheepskin half pads are widely available on the market and popularly used by riders.
Sheepskin pads have been used for many years and have since been developed to optimise comfort for the horse.
These kinds of pads can be used to cushion the horse’s back, protect against bruising or saddle sores; fill space on a horse lacking topline or on a saddle that is too wide; as well as absorb the pressures and shock from a heavy or novice rider.
Often, a saddle is the correct shape for a horse but he needs to fill out in order for the saddle to have enough clearance off the spine, and in these cases, a sheepskin pad is a good compromise.
Sheepskin half pads have also become more breathable so that the back doesn’t overheat so easily.
These pads are now commonly manufactured without sheepskin along the spinal section so that the fit does not feel tight or uncomfortable for the horse.
Certain brands design the sheepskin pads to be more or less built up in an area, such as higher in the wither to fix a saddle that tips forward.
Many riders add a sheepskin pad for the aesthetic appeal or because they feel they are adding cushioning, but unless essential to fit, they shouldn’t be used. Always consult your qualified saddle fitter before using a sheepskin half pad.
Memory foam pads have been trending recently as they optimise saddle fit, especially on a skew horse.
Essentially, the foam fills or compresses according to the gaps between the saddle and the horse’s back, creating a more balanced fit.
They are slim in design and don’t take up the same space under the gullet as a sheepskin pad.
Memory foam pads stabilise the saddle and provide some shock absorption for the horse’s back.
Modern pads are breathable and moisture absorbent so that the back stays relatively cool during work.
Gel pads are very thin and lightweight, and are designed to stabilise the saddle and add minimal rise to the saddle.
Gel pads are great for saddles that have a tendency to slip.
Certain brands manufacture gel pads to be raised more in the front or the back to correct slight saddle-fitting problems.
The gel material is flexible, which helps it to lie according to your horse’s anatomical shape.
Gel pads often have perforated holes, which optimise breathability and grip.
In recent years, saddle pad manufacturers have produced pads with removable inserts so that one can target specific areas of fit.
The saddle pad would feature multiple pockets on both sides of the pad where inserts can be added or removed.
Inserts can either be thin to improve a minimal fit fault or thicker in more serious cases.
The fit can be totally customised and adjusted to each individual horse’s back.
Pads with inserts are great for horses with conformation issues, such as sway back.
Foam risers were popularly used ‘back in the day’ to create lift along the saddle, or specifically in the front or the back of the saddle.
They’re less commonly used today as there is more variety in half pads on the market.
Foam pads can vary in thickness, and thinner ones are popularly used in racing as they are extremely lightweight.
They provide cushioning, lift and grip and are suitable for small saddle-fitting faults.
However, there are more advanced options when it comes to correcting more intricate saddle-fitting faults.
Some manufacturers offer half pad combinations, such as sheepskins with inserts or gel pads with sheepskin, so that you can have the best of both worlds.
It’s important to consult your saddle fitter when using half pad combinations to ensure that you are fixing the right things and not over-padding your horse.
As mentioned, nothing can quite compare with a perfectly fitted saddle.
The majority of saddles offered these days, including entry-level ones, are adjustable.
The right saddle doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.
Qualified saddle fitters can work wonders by manipulating flocking, so don’t write off a saddle without having it assessed first.
Taking out or adding some flocking may just be what you need to get your saddle to fit.
Find out if the saddle is manually or machine adjustable, as not all brands are adjusted the same way.
It’s true that the top of the range and big-name brands are the leaders when it comes to offering customised fit, and these do come at a price. If one of those saddles is what your horse needs, you may be able to use half pads in consultation with your saddle-fitter to compromise while you look for a second-hand saddle, or save for the saddle of your dreams 😉