Should I Use a Half Pad?
By Jochen Schleese, CMS, Equine Ergonomist
Question: I frequently see half pads being used under saddles, made of either gel, memory foam, or leather. Do you think these pads are necessary or is a properly fitted saddle sufficient to cushion a horse’s back?
Answer: There is an old wisdom that a well-fitting saddle should not need anything underneath it, save perhaps a thin cotton pad to protect the saddle from the horse’s sweat. As such, we think more effort should be put into ensuring that the saddle actually fits properly at all of the 9 Points of Saddle Fit, rather than using a temporary solution such as a half pad.
A saddle pad should be used as a temporary aid until your saddle fitter can help with the adjustment. We think it somewhat incongruous that jumper riders in particular tend to pile on the saddle pads under their close contact saddles – which negates the concept of “close contact.” The problem, unfortunately, is that so many jumper riders tend to settle their saddles fairly far forward, which causes their saddles to be unbalanced. The cantle is then quite a bit lower than the pommel, which of course justifies the use of so many pads to even out the position of the saddle, with the result that essentially, the rider is inches away from the horse’s back. The use of so many pads has also proved detrimental to the life of the English wooden spring tree found in so many of the popular jumping brands, causing them to break prematurely.
There are instances where a gel pad (originally developed for human medical needs) will help situations of disproportionate pressure, but again, these issues could probably be solved with the correct saddle or an adjustment.
Unfortunately, many of the popular brands of jumping saddles have non-adjustable trees and foam/felt panels that cannot be altered.
Photo above: A saddle set too far forward is unbalanced, with the cantle lower than the pommel, and many riders compensate for this by using pads to even out the position of the saddle. Photo credit: Alex Brollo-Wiki