Researchers are learning how different pads stack up for keeping our horses happy and healthy under saddle.

Saddle pads are one of the most fashionable pieces of equipment we put on our horses, but they also serve an important biomechanical purpose. These fabricated foundations can keep our horses comfortable, enabling them to perform better–but only if we’ve chosen the right ones and paired them with properly fitting saddles.

As scientists have studied saddles and saddle fit, they’ve discovered how important the underlying pads are. This field of study is still fairly new, and saddle pad researchers are few and far betweem, but The Horse tracked down these scientists to bring you the information they’ve learned so far and to help you determine how your saddle pad stacks up.

What’s the Point?

First and foremost, we need to understand a saddle pad’s purpose. With all the emphasis these days on having perfectly fitting saddles, why do we still need pads?

If it’s a Western saddle, it needs a pad, period, says Katja Geser-von Peinen, DVM, clinical researcher in the Department of Sports Medicine at the Equine Clinic of Vetsuisse Faculty, in Zurich, Switzerland. Even the best-fitting Western saddles aren’t designed to be used without some cushioning.

Secondly, regardless of discipline, a saddle pad can serve to protect your saddle’s leather, even if the saddle is a perfect fit. Sweat can break down the soft leather on the underside of the saddle, staining it and making it more likely to tear or break, Geser-von Peinen says.

Further, sh