Do you want to fit a saddle pad to an older horse but are unsure of how to do it properly? As an equestrian for five years, I know how important it is for older horses to have comfortable tack to protect their back.
In this article, I will explain the importance of proper saddle pad fitting for older horses and what to look for when choosing a saddle for senior horses. Read more to learn!
How to Fit a Saddle Pad for Older Horses
Fitting saddles to older horses is a process that requires attention to detail and care. Let’s look at the steps a rider must take to ensure the correct saddle and saddle pad fit.
Step 1: Measure the Saddle
The first step to fitting saddles to older horses is to measure the saddle you use for your senior horse.
All you need to do to measure the length of the saddle relative to the saddle pad is take a tape measure and measure the distance from the end of the saddle to the end of the saddle pad on one side.
A saddle pad should be two to three inches longer than the end of the saddle to provide the right amount of support.
If the saddle pad is longer than this, it will slide around while the horse is moving, causing a crooked saddle.
There are a variety of size options to suit every aging horse.
The pad should stick out an inch from the saddle on both sides when your horse is tacked up.
If you need help to figure out the right size, seek the advice of a professional saddle fitter to avoid fit issues.
Step 2: Decide the Type of Saddle Pad you Want
Once you know the size of the saddle pad you need, consider the pad you want to purchase and fit.
Senior horses benefit from saddle pads  with extra padding because their spine is more fragile than the average horse. This is because a horse’s body condition changes as they age.
Before retirement, Shane, a 22-year-old American Paint Horse whom I rode in lessons, always wore an ultra-soft wool pad with fleece under the Wintec dressage saddle we rode in.
Regular saddle pads do not have additional padding but have just enough to avoid hurting the horse’s back.
Check: Best Dressage Half Pad
Step 3: Check How Your Saddle Fits With the Saddle Pad
Check your saddle fit. A saddle pad cannot replace an ill-fitting saddle . If the saddle has a narrow tree, and it is putting pressure on the withers, adding a saddle pad will increase discomfort.
This is because saddle pads fill the saddle gullet space and decrease the space between the three points.
If a saddle is too wide, a saddle pad will hold it in place to prevent additional movement, but this will obstruct the withers and prevent freedom of movement.
Tack that does not fit well will increase the risk of long-term damage to your horse’s back. All horse people know the importance of proper saddle fit.
I once saw a horse that developed a horrible case of swayback because their saddle did not fit properly, and they were ridden every day.
Over time, the pressure from the saddle weakened their back muscles and caused them to develop swayback.
Step 4: Choose the Best Material and Shape for the Saddle Pad
Choose the best material and shape  of saddle pad for your older horse. There are many options out there that can help keep your horse comfortable whether you decide to do arena work or trail ride.
You can find both English saddle pads and a western saddle pad in each of these shapes and materials with a variety of color options.
Saddle Pad Shapes
#1 Contour Saddle Pad
Saddle pads with a contoured design are best for older horses with high withers or swayback. They mold to the shape of your horse’s back and the space in the front takes the pressure off of the withers.
The high-withered horse is so much harder to saddle than a horse with normal withers. The saddle tree has to accommodate its withers and there has to be enough gullet clearance for the saddle pad.
Make sure to check our list of the best saddle fitting for swayback horses.
Watch this video showing a contour saddle pad.
#2 Straight Saddle Pad
Straight saddle pads are the best choice for horses with narrow withers or a flat back. This is the pad that is used for horses with average withers as well.
These pads can also accommodate horses with mutton withers and other conformation issues to prevent long-term damage and ensure a comfortable ride for both horse and rider.
#3 Round Saddle Pad
Round saddle pads are made to fit jumping saddles and horses with shorter backs. According to this  study, horses with short backs are prone to “osseous lesions” such as kissing spine.
It is important to provide short-backed horses with extra protection to prevent such conditions. The most conscious horse people know to keep an eye on their horse’s spine and change tack accordingly.
#4 Cutout Saddle Pads
The cutout or cutback design is meant for horses with high withers. The gap of space in the pad’s front offers plenty of wither clearance, providing additional protection from back problems.
Correct saddle fit is essential  to allow the horse’s back and shoulder blades to move as their body moves through the paces. One core aspect of saddle fitting is to ensure horse and rider harmony.
An ill-fitting saddle negatively impacts horses’ natural way of going.
Watch this saddle pad’s collection.
Saddle Pad Materials
Fleece is the most common material. It can be synthetic or true fleece. Fleece is soft, and a prime example of construction for comfort. However, fleece is not as durable as other materials and wears quickly.
Felt pads are known for their ability to wick away sweat and are the top choice for moisture absorption.
Wool also absorbs shock well and is a great choice to relieve pressure points from an otherwise well-fitting saddle.
A neoprene pad is water-resistant and easy to clean. It is also breathable to prevent sweat from absorbing into the horse’s coat and is well cushioned to support the horse’s back.
Closed-cell foam is regarded for how it molds to the horse’s back to provide the ultimate comfort and support. These pads also have mesh vents for airflow but lack moisture-wicking ability.
Fitting saddle pads to older horses is both an art and a science. Here is a video explaining more about the proper way to fit a saddle and saddle pad.
How can I make my saddle fit better?
You can achieve a better saddle fit by choosing a saddle pad that will prevent it from sliding and that will compensate for small gaps in the fit that the saddle has.
What reactions can a horse have to an ill-fitting saddle?
Horses can refuse to move forward, buck, balk, pin their ears, or show other signs of discomfort when a saddle doesn’t fit right. They can also go lame because a bad saddle restricts their shoulder and back movement.
How should a saddle pad fit a horse?
Saddle pads should be two or three inches longer than the saddle and provide plenty of clearance for the withers.
Fitting saddles to older horses, as well as saddle pads, requires saddle measurement to ensure the pad is not too long for the saddle, checking saddle fit, deciding what pad is best, and choosing the style and material.
Older horses need more comfort because they are more prone to back issues than young horses.
How do you fit a saddle pad for older horses? Please share below!
- 1. Selecting Saddle Pads [Internet]. Horse Illustrated Magazine. 2001 [cited 2022 Feb 27]. Available from: https://www.horseillustrated.com/horse-keeping-saddle-pads-197
- 2. Ruff S. Deconstructing the Saddle Pad [Internet]. The Horse. 2018 [cited 2022 Feb 27]. Available from: https://thehorse.com/139410/deconstructing-the-saddle-pad/
- 3. How to choose the proper saddle pad [Internet]. www.horsesaddleshop.com. [cited 2022 Feb 27]. Available from: https://www.horsesaddleshop.com/about-saddle-pads.html
- 4. Mayaki AM, Intan-Shameha AR, Noraniza MA, Mazlina M, Adamu L, Abdullah R. Clinical investigation of back disorders in horses: A retrospective study (2002-2017). March-2019. 2019;12:377–81.
- 5. MacKechnie-Guire R, MacKechnie-Guire E, Fairfax V, Fisher D, Fisher M, Pfau T. The Effect of Tree Width on Thoracolumbar and Limb Kinematics, Saddle Pressure Distribution, and Thoracolumbar Dimensions in Sports Horses in Trot and Canter. Animals. 2019;9:842.
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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