How to Use a Gel Pad Under Saddle in 4 Easy Steps

Understanding how to use a gel pad under saddle is one of the best things you can do to ensure your horse’s comfort every ride.

When you use a gel pad with a well-fitting saddle, you are providing the most cushion possible for your horse’s back.

In this article, I will cover the process of putting a gel saddle pad underneath a saddle step by step, as well as other topics relating to gel saddle pads that every horse rider needs to know.

Let’s get started, it’s easy, so you will master it in now time!

READ MORE: Best Half Pads for Sore Backs

How to Use a Gel Pad Under Saddle: Step By Step

Step 1: Choose the Right Size Saddle Pad 

a girl fitting a saddle pad on high wither horse

The gel saddle pad you choose should be large enough to cover the entire area where the saddle will sit on the horse’s back. 

This will protect their back from unnecessary stress.

Step 2: Decide How You Want to Use the Saddle Pad 

Gel pads (1) can be used both on their own or in between the saddle and a regular saddle pad. Choose how you want to use your gel pad before tacking up your horse. 

Using the gel pad between the existing quality saddle pad will provide additional shock-absorbing padding. I always recommend this way instead of using just a gel pad.

Step 3: Make Sure The Saddle Pad is Properly Positioned on the Horse’s Back

Any saddle pad (5) will not provide proper cushioning if it is not sitting on the horse’s back properly. 

When positioning any saddle pad, make sure that it sits ahead of and behind the ends of the saddle.

The saddle pad should be even on both sides of the back, not have more pads on one side or the other. 

There should also be enough space between your horse’s withers and the bottom of the pad so that you can fit 3-4 fingers in the space.

The best way to do this, which I always do is to put your hand underneath the saddle pad and lift it into the gullet of the saddle. Use both hands, one at the withers and one at the back of the saddle.

READ MORE: What is a Wither Strap for Horses?

Step 4: Place the Saddle On

rider showing How To Fit a Saddle Pad For Older Horses

Once you have the saddle pad in the proper place, you can put your saddle on your horse.

When positioning a saddle, make sure to place it gently and that it does not cause the saddle pad to shift,

Additionally, there should be at least 1-2 inches of pad sticking out from both ends of the saddle.

If you need help during the process, I would recommend consulting with a professional saddle fitter. 

The horses that I ride need to be reassessed for proper saddle fit at least once a year because their bodies change as they age. When the saddle changes, so do the saddle pad.

Here is a video explaining more about the various aspects of saddle pad fit.

Now that you know how to use a gel pad under saddle, the benefits of these saddle pads can be discussed.

READ MORE: Best Saddle Pads Ever

Benefits of Gel Saddle Pads 

Gel Pads for horses provide many benefits (2). I usually ride senior horses or those that are middle-aged because they are level-headed, and gel saddle pads do wonders for their aging backs.

The benefits of saddle pads made with gel are:

  • The gel absorbs the shock from the rider’s movement on the horse’s back, making the horse more comfortable because the rider’s weight is evenly distributed
  • The gel is a breathable material, often with ventilation holes, that decreases your horse’s risk of overheating, which prevents skin irritation and chafing 
  • Gel pads relieve pressure on your horse’s withers, allowing them more freedom of movement and reducing the risk of injury 
  • Gel pads are non-slip so they keep the saddle from moving on the horse’s back when riding 
  • Gel saddle pads have a design that allows them to mold to the unique composite structure of your horse’s back

Now that you know the benefits of gel pads for horses regardless of the discipline of horse riding you do, let’s take a look at one of the most well-known gel pad brands, Impact Gel.

ALSO CHECK: How Much Do Saddle Pads Cost?

What is an Impact Gel Saddle Pad?

Impact Gel I(3) is a well-known brand of gel saddle pads that has gained notoriety as “America’s Greatest Saddle Pad”

They have done years of research to create their proprietary gel material for superior performance and comfort. The gel provides two core benefits to horses:

  • Relieving pressure points caused by poor saddle fit, by facilitating the distribution of pressure points
  • Getting rid of the thermal energy that is transferred onto the horse as they work

They have both full and half pads for the Western and English rider, and even have the option for you to create your custom saddle pad.

What is Impact Gel?

Impact gel is a unique material made of interconnected molecules that disperse energy while staying intertwined together. The cross-linked structure helps prevent heat from building up

Impact gel is good for the environment, resistant to high temperatures, protective against bacteria, and absorbs shock.

When Does a Horse Need a Gel Pad?

equestrian showing the right Saddle Pad Fitting for Older Horses

Technically, if an equine partnership consists of a balanced rider and horse, nothing beyond the typical cotton pad is needed. However, no rider is perfect, and using a shock-absorbing pad is always a good choice for riders.

However, when the rider or saddle is unbalanced (5), this creates the pressure points that need to be relieved by a gel pad.

So, a horse needs a gel pad when things are unbalanced and require extra protection. This is easier said than done.

As a disabled rider, my body is naturally more off-balance than most, so I often ride with some variation of the gel pad to protect my horse’s back.

Gel Saddle Pad vs Other Types of Saddle Pads 

How do gel saddle pads stack up against all of the other equestrian product options (4) available? Their main strength is their shock-absorbing and heat dispelling properties, but they are not the only solid saddle pads.

ALSO CHECK: Saddles Sheepskin vs Synthetic

Memory Foam Saddle Pads 

Memory foam pads are another great type of saddle pad. They are thicker and more pillow-like than a gel pad. Many people prefer this type of pad over gel. These foam half pads are now extremely popular.

Lambskin Saddle Pads 

Wool half pads are the classic saddle pad that has stood the test of time. They are one of the best materials for distributing pressure well. They are also breathable and wick sweat away.

The downside to sheepskin or lambskin is that although they are well padded, the padding also makes the saddle smaller. Lambskin pads are best for horses in rehab or that are coming back to work.

They are also great for older horses or those that get sore backs, so long as you use it with the saddle fitting correctly. Breathable wool is also one of the best materials for regulating temperature.

Synthetic Saddle Pads 

Synthetic pads are expensive for equestrians on a budget but do not wick away moisture well. Since they cannot dry up a sweat, they can cause horses to overheat faster.

If a horse is overheated, it can contract heat stroke or other serious and potentially life-threatening conditions.

Equestrians should always put the health and safety of their horses first.

Rubber and Felt Saddle Pads 

Rubber and felt pads are great for weight distribution but are not breathable. The lack of breathability will cause moisture to stick to the horse’s coat and lead to conditions like rain rot.

Of all the different saddle pads, both a gel half pad and memory foam pad seem to be the best as they cover all of the bases needed to make a horse comfortable. 

FAQs

Do gel saddle pads work?

Gel pads do work and are great for horses. They can do wonders to protect the fragile back area. They are also breathable for the ultimate comfort when working.

Where does a gel pad go on a horse?

leather saddle on top of a red saddle pad

Gel pads should be placed in the center of the horse’s back, either under the saddle or in between the saddle and another saddle pad. Between the saddle and a regular pad is best.

If you’re still a bit unsure how to put on your gel saddle pad, I think this video is really helpful.

Conclusion

Having an awareness of how to use a gel saddle pad under saddles is key to making sure your horse is comfortable. They go in the center of the horse’s back and can also be placed in between other pads for extra cushion. 

Gel saddle pads have many benefits including shock absorption, and they are best when the rider is off-balance and may unintentionally cause pain to the horse’s back. 

brown horse saddle with gel pad

Do you have more tips on how to use a gel pad under saddle? Please share below!

References 

  • (1) “Does a Gel Pad Go under the Numnah?” Moviecultists.com, moviecultists.com/does-a-gel-pad-go-under-the-numnah. Accessed 19 Mar. 2022.
  • (2) Kavallerie. “The Shocking Truth about Gel Saddle Pads That Will WOW Even Your Horses.” Kavallerie, mykavallerie.com/blogs/equestrians-corner/the-truth-about-gel-saddle-pads. Accessed 19 Mar. 2022.
  • (3) “About Us.” Impact Gel, impactgel.com/pages/about-us. Accessed 19 Mar. 2022.
  • (4) “Saddle Pads: How to Choose the Right One for Your Horse?” Wehorse Blog, 7 Oct. 2019, www.wehorse.com/en/blog/choosing-saddle-pad/. Accessed 19 Mar. 2022.
  • (5) Lloyd, Ané. “When Saddle Pads Do More Harm than Good | Onlinepethealth.” Onlinepethealth.com, 21 Jan. 2021, onlinepethealth.com/2021/01/21/saddle-pads/. Accessed 19 Mar. 2022.
Bryanna Tanase
Bryanna Tanase

Bryanna is a 23-year-old Florida-based Grade 1 Para-dressage rider based in Florida and she has been riding for 5 years. Horses are her passion and her ultimate goal is to be selected for the US Para-Equestrian Team and represent the US at the Paralympics. She rides at Quantum Leap Farm and Emerald M Therapeutic Riding Center and her equine partners are Shane, an American Paint Horse, and Cappy a Welsh x Thoroughbred. When she is not helping at the barn, riding, or training, she is learning about horses, writing articles about them, and using her social media platforms to raise awareness for therapeutic riding and para-equestrianism, shares her journey, and advocates for greater inclusion of para-equestrian in the media and equestrian sport at large.
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