The local tack shop has them in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and they are an essential part of every horse’s tack–the saddle pad. Lately, interest in the equine industry has lead to an increase in the manufacturing of technologically advanced saddle pads, often at a higher price. But what makes a good saddle pad? Although there has been little research conducted to measure the performance of these high-tech pads, there is a growing interest in providing more information to consumers regarding the purpose of saddle pads and the materials used in them. Nevertheless, as anyone who has purchased a saddle pad recently knows, the endless combination of materials used in pads today makes purchasing one extremely confusing, especially when each manufacturer claims his is the best. But which pads are “the best” and what does “the best” mean?

The primary purpose of a saddle pad is to facilitate riding comfort for the horse. It does this by easing the connection between the horse’s back and the hard surface of the saddle. A pad can ease minor fit problems by acting as a space filler, evenly distributing pressure and eliminating high-pressure points underneath the saddle. It can also pull moisture away from the horse’s back, anchor the saddle, and protect it from sweat and dirt. However, saddle pads are not designed to fix major saddle fitting problems and should not be used as the solution to an ill-fitting saddle.

Why Study Saddle Pads?

The ridden horse experiences repetitive patterns of pressure that increase in severity with increases in speed, weight and instability of the rider, and ill fit of the saddle. These pressures in addition to sweat and shifting can lead to bruising, scalding, breakage of hairs, high-pressure points, pressure sores, decreased performance of the horse, and interrupted communication between the horse and rider.

Pressure sores are one example