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A Saddle Should Fit Without a Half Pad , So Why Are So Many People Using Them?!


This can be a controversial topic in the saddle fitting world and there are lots of opinions on the use of saddle pads.


The main purpose of the saddle is to distribute the weight of the rider and minimise pressure points and peak forces on the horses back. In simple terms high pressure equals bad – lower pressure equals better.


As standard saddles are fitted with a thin, cotton numnah to keep the saddle clean and many owners believe that thick pads are a warning sign that a saddle does not fit or will negatively affect the comfort of the horse.


It is generally believed that a thick fluffy pad will reduce the width of the saddle whereas gel pads don’t affect the fit and give more protection to the horse.


There are lots of opinions on the subject but at the IASF we like to look at the cold, hard facts and in 2022 a research paper was published which may give us more clarification.


A study was conducted which looked at various saddle pads and the affect this has on the pressure on the horses back while standing square and at walk, sitting trot, rising trot and canter. The study also looked at the stability of the riders’ weight while in motion. The saddles used in this study fit well with just a thin, cotton numnah and no adjustments were made to the saddle once the additional pad was added or used.


Overall it was found that 80% of the pads tested decreased the mean (average) pressure under the saddle in most situations. The only pad which did not decrease pressure was the gel pad. Previous studies have been conducted which looked at the affect of gel pads and results are inconclusive.


Overall it was found that the lambskin pad used in the study showed a significant decrease in mean and highest pressure recordings.



This leads us to question the theory that a horse with a well fitting saddle will not benefit from the use of a lambskin pad.


One area which may be a concern is the stability of the saddle. The study concluded that in some instances the riders’ centre of gravity shifted more when using a thicker pad.


It is important to note that the use of pads in the study only looked a one ‘control’ rider who was at a professional level and the horses were sound, with a well-fitting saddle and free from clinical symptoms of pain.


While the results of this research do support the use of thicker pads it is important to approach this with caution and we don’t recommend loading up on thick pads and using them on every horse and every saddle. There are limitations to the study and, as always, more research is needed.

However the research does support the anecdotal evidence seen by saddle fitters and horse riders day to day; many horses (despite having a well fitting saddle) just ‘go better’ or seem to prefer a certain type of pad.


Overall it is vital that your saddle fits you and your horse. Riders should work with their saddle fitter to find an optimal solution to meet their needs, meanwhile consider the overall comfort, protection and longevity of the horse. If your horse ‘likes’ a half pad but you do not it is worth considering the pros and cons of each option.


A link to download the research can be found here https://www.hippiatrika.com/download.htm?id=20220201


Source: The effects of different saddle pads on the pressure exerted on the equine back by correctly fitting dressage saddles Marie T. Dittmann, Nina Hess, Samuel Arpagaus, Jasmin Müller-Quirin, Michael A. Weishaupt and Selma N. Latif




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2 commenti


I've noted the rear angle of the rails on the saddle appear to be very upright against the horses back shape. Can I ask if fitters were involved in this study, and how many were in agreement of the fitting of the saddles tested? Could you please clarify?

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admin16705
admin16705
04 feb 2023
Risposta a

Hi Laura, thanks for your comment. Here is an extract from the paper "The eight participating horses were selected from a larger population based on their saddles fitting particularly well. An experienced veterinarian, with specialist training in assessing saddle fit (SNL), inspected all saddles manually to make sure they had no significant defects or deficiencies in their fit". The data, which includes highest and lowest pressure readings throughout the weight bearing surface of the saddle appears to support the findings of previous papers on the subject but as we know with any research there are limitations and results should be interpreted with caution.

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