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How to fit a saddle pad to a horse

There are literally thousands of different pads to choose from, in a bewildering array of styles and colours and made from many different materials. There is also a huge range in prices. We have seen saddlepads being sold for as little as £18.00 and yet a top-quality Western Saddle Pad can set you back £500 or more.

Of course, you want your horse to look good, but a saddle pad is so much more than just a fashion statement, so don’t just purchase one because it looks pretty.

This article is all about how to fit a saddle pad to a horse. Just to clarify in this article we will be talking about English saddle pads and not Western Saddle Pads.

Why a saddle pad needs to fit well

If you have ever studied a horse in motion, you will notice the back and withers lift allowing the hind legs to land underneath the body, which is where as a rider you get the up-down motion.

If the saddlepad is pulled down too tight over the horse’s spine and wither area when the horse tries to move there is no room for the spine to lift and a saddle pad pulled down tightly creates resistance making it very uncomfortable for the horse, especially on a long ride.

Similarly, a pad that is too big or too small is also going to cause problems. If your pad is too small it may not cover the whole of the saddle and saddle flaps, which can cause all sorts of rubbing issues. If your pad is too long it can interfere with your riding and if your pad is too deep the excess material can flap about.

If you notice that your horse’s existing pad is too big, too small, or just doesn’t fit properly, you’ll need to replace it with something that is the correct size and fit. The best way to do this is to remove the old one and determine what the issues are.

How to fit a saddle pad

How to identify issues with your saddle pad

Before you remove the old pad and start measuring for a new one, it’s important to identify the issue. You can’t properly measure the horse and pad if you don’t know what issues you’re trying to solve.

Firstly is your saddle pad cut to fit the type of saddle you are using?

If you own a general-purpose saddle, then you should be using a general-purpose saddle pad. If you ride in a dressage saddle, then a dressage cut saddle pad should be underneath. I know this sounds obvious but we have seen the wrong type of saddle pad under a saddle before!

Secondly, does your saddle pad look right visually?

Look at how your existing saddle pad sits on your horse underneath the saddle. Can you see any issues just by observing? too long, too short not sitting correctly?

Visually ensuring a good fit

Thirdly, does your saddle pad actually measure up?

Turn your saddle over and measure down the gullet, starting at the front edge of the padding, all the way back until you reach the rear edge of the saddle padding. Add at least 6cm to this measurement and then compare it with the length of your pad. A well-fitting pad should protrude at least 3cm from the front and rear of the saddle.

Once you’ve identified the issues, you can move forward with finding a new pad.

Here are some points to remember when purchasing your new saddle pad.

  1. Your saddle pad should be large enough to completely cover the saddle area so that the back is protected.
  2. Saddle pads are made from many different materials, but we recommend staying away from synthetic materials if you can. Natural cotton saddle pads are best (or ones that have a cotton blend designed specifically for saddle pads). Cotton is so much better at allowing the horse’s skin to breathe and at wicking away sweat.
  3. Your saddle pad should be firm but have enough padding to absorb the continued concussion of the rider and saddle.
  4. Look for a contoured saddle pad, one that has been specially shaped to fit into the saddle’s gullet area.
  5. If you can afford one, buy a pad with a shaped sheepskin underside (and front and rear) as they are so much better at allowing air to flow easily between the fibres and regulating the temperature evenly over the skin, making it ideal in both summer and winter. Sheepskin can also soak up to eight times its own weight in moisture before it feels at all wet and the resilient nature of the fibre is perfect for even pressure distribution.
  6. Finally, horseriding is all about fun, so go ahead and buy a saddle pad in your favourite colour!
A top quality sheepskin saddle pad

Once you have purchased your pad, you can move forward with fitting it to your horse.

Fitting a saddle pad to your horse

From the rear of your horse slide the saddle pad over the centre of your horse’s back, ensuring that it is covering the withers.

Lift the spine of the saddle pad up slightly and check to see if you can fit the fingers of one hand in the space between the top of the pad and the wither.

Make sure the rest of your pad is lying flat against the horse.

A nicely fitting saddle pad

Take your saddle and place it slightly forward on your horse’s withers, then slide it back so that it finishes in its natural resting place dictated by the horse’s conformation. (Remember to make sure that the saddle pad does not move during this process). The saddle should stop behind the shoulder blades, to ensure the horse has freedom of movement.

Check to make sure that you can still fit your fingers between the saddle pad and withers. If all looks good you can finish by adding the girth.

Saddle pad fitting isn’t a one-off job, this is especially true if you are trying a pad for the first time. You should check your saddle pad regularly once it has been used to make sure the sweat areas are even on both undersides of the saddle pad. Similarly to human bodies, as a horse gets fitter the muscles and shape of the horse can change and a regular check of your horse saddle pad fitting will ensure a happy horse.

Final Words

We hope after this you have a better idea of how to fit a saddle pad to a horse and what to look for when purchasing a new one.

One important point to note is that it doesn’t matter how good your saddle pad is if you have an ill fitting saddle that doesn’t fit properly. Just as you regularly check your saddle pad, you should be carrying out the same procedure for your saddle. A qualified Master saddle fitter can tell you if your saddle fits correctly and if not make any adjustments to the flocking or tree-width.

Mattes cotton square saddle pad

Remember with saddle pad fitting, a properly fitted saddle pad and saddle can improve your horse’s performance, and provide maximum comfort and overall health. Don’t go for the cheapest option. Invest in a good quality Sheepskin saddle pad, that will do a proper job for your horse and if cared for will last you many years and a lot longer than some of the cheaper synthetic pads being sold!