Saddle pads were originally designed to protect the saddle from sweat and dirt. But these days the saddle pad is used to help reduce the pressure under a saddle. This study compared the pressure absorbing capabilities of four different types of saddle pads. Namely, gel, cotton and foam, leather as well as a Reindeer fur pad. Every saddle pad was compared to pressure measurements of riding without a pad. And the pressure absorbing capabilities of different saddle pads were also compared to one another.

The 16 competition horses used in this study were aged between 6 and 17 years. They all underwent an orthopaedic examination and were injury and pain-free. Each horse was fitted professionally with the same brand of dressage saddle and only the gullet width varied. A competent balanced rider rode all horses on a treadmill that was calibrated to each horses stride length and speed. Using a treadmill ensured that differences in terrain would not cause artefacts in the pressure sensor measurements. Finally, all the riding sessions were recorded using a video camera.

The pressure data was collected by an electronic mat located under each saddle pad. The data collected included overall pressure, as well as forces travelling along, and radiating sidewards, on the horse’s back.

The results found that not using a saddle pad yielded the highest pressure readings at both the walk and trot.

  • In terms of the various materials, leather and gel pads at both the walk and trot were almost on par with not using any saddle pad at all.

  •  A combination of cotton and foam saddle pad absorbed about 15 percent of the riders pressure at the walk and about 10 percent at the trot.

  • The Reindeer saddle pad had the best performance absorbing about 20 percent of the rider’s pressure at the walk and 14 percent at the trot.

  •  The kind of pad used did not change the fit of any of the saddles.

The take-home messages are that saddle pads, contrary to popular opinion, do not alter a correctly fitting saddle. Also that foams and natural fibres such as fleeces have shock absorbing properties. How these saddle pads absorb shock was not investigated in this study, however.
The researchers did not provide an explanation as to why a Reindeer pad was most effective, but please feel free to put forward your theories in the comments section below.

You can see images of the saddle pads used in this research, and read the article in its entirety at the following link:…/10.2…/042516409X475382/full

Kotschwar A.B, Baltacis A, Peham C. (2010). The effects of different saddle pads on forces and pressure distribution beneath a fitting saddle. Equine Vet J. Mar;42(2):114-8.