When I was a kid, saddle pads were used primarily to keep your saddle clean. They were thin pieces of cloth, mostly white.
Now? Saddle pads are therapeutic. They have pockets for shims to improve the fit of saddles. They provide non-slip surfaces. They absorb shock. And they can help keep your horse’s back cool by wicking away moisture.
I’ve written before about the benefits of using real sheepskin pads. When I had Kroni, he used to get terrible bumps on his back in the summer. Sheepskin was the only type of pad that kept him comfortable. Those pads are surprisingly durable; I still have most of the ones I bought for him in regular rotation, more than a decade later!
Another pad that I like is the Supracor Cool Grip pad. I found it after I started looking for a pad that would reduce impact and not retain heat, but which I could hose off after each ride. Endurance riders are big fans of Supracor pads precisely for the reasons I wanted to use it — and I figured if it works for them, anything I do will be less taxing.
Supracor pads don’t feel like traditional saddle pads. They are spongy, somewhere between rigid and floppy although they do fit nicely under a saddle, conform to your horse’s back and then return to their original shape. The company uses a material called Stimulite, which is made from a combination of thermoplastics and thermoplastic elastomers (think rubber and plastic) and manufactured in a structure that resembles a honeycomb. According to the website:
Supracor’s flexible, fusion-bonded honeycomb technology utilizes the same geometry as rigid aerospace honeycomb, eg. a cellular matrix comprised of alternating thick- and thin-walled cells with eight interior and exterior radii. This geometry allows the matrix to be both lightweight and anisotropic: having varying degrees of resistance in its length, width and thickness.
The honeycomb structure for these pads which was originally developed for wheelchair cushions and mattresses to prevent and heal pressure sores. A nurse, who was also an equestrian, suggested to the company that they make saddle pads and thus, the Cool Grip pad was born. In addition to keeping your horse’s back cool the Cool Grip pads help reduce impact and distribute weight uniformly without significantly changing saddle fit.
I have been using a Supracor pad now for about three years. They fit nicely under my saddles and have not changed how my saddles fit. I have two of the half pads and one of the endurance pads (which is much larger than the half pad. I like that one the least for my use as it’s a bit too large under my saddles).
All the science behind the pads is very cool, but the reason I like them is because they are practical, durable, easy to clean, and they look like they will last forever.
I haven’t found any real “research” about the pads’ performance except for this science project which compares Supracor and Equipedic pads. In my own experience, my horse’s backs are cool after riding, the saddles stay put and there is no soreness (keep in mind that my saddles are professionally fitted twice a year so I expect the saddles to fit and am not trying to use the pads to improve fit).
Cleaning them is a breeze. You just hose them down and leave them to dry.
The downside to the SupraCor pads (and all the other high tech pads on the market) is that they are expensive. The half pad retails for about $190 and some of the larger pads are even more expensive. I got mine either on eBay or Craig’s list. I paid half price for them and believe are likely to last for a long time. After three years of use they show no signs of breaking down or compressing.
Personally, I like the half pads the best. I bought an Endurance pad because I wanted something to use with forward cut XC saddle, and I find that a bit unwieldy, but the half pads are perfect. I keep one in the barn and one in my trailer. The black one looks practically new; the white one is a bit dingy but you can also buy covers for them that make them look more traditional (and cleaner).
(Note: I was not asked by the company to write a review and I was not provided with any product).
What’s your favorite saddle pad? Do you use anything special?