When looking to purchase new tack for your horse, you will face the saddles sheepskin vs synthetic debate.
Sheepskin vs synthetic horse tack is a hot topic. Many have opinions, but few have actually researched which is better other than just looking at the prices.
I love learning, especially when it is for the well-being of the horses in my care, so I’ve don’t plenty of practical and academic research.
Here I share everything you need to know to find the best option for you and your horse.
CHECK: Best Gaited Horse Saddle Pads
Uses of Real Sheepskin Horse Equipment
Real sheepskin has long been a popular material used for horse tack. The older style of sheep fleece leaves the leather attached.
However, in recent years it is popular just to attach the wool to a synthetic backing.
Western saddles are lined underneath with sheepskin. You won’t find it on an English saddle; always leather or synthetic material.
Sheepskin is also a popular material used on saddle pads for both English and western styles.
You will find saddled pads fully or half lined with this material.
Half pads also use it with the removal of the skin, the most popular option today. I find these some of the best half pads for horses with sensitive backs.
Regarding sensitive horses, sheep wool is used to girth covers or is attached permanently to the girth itself. This helps horses prone to saddle sores, girth galls, or rubs.
While I’ve never used one myself, despite how comfortable they look, many riders like to add a sheepskin seat save to their saddle.
This is placed over the saddle seat and slips in place with elastics.
A seat save reduces wear on the leather seat of the saddle, and it also provides the rider with more comfort.
It is undoubtedly an excellent idea for long trail rides.
While it is not as common today, the use of fleece pieces on a shipping halter was extremely common when I was growing up. These pieces come in a set with individual pieces that you velcro onto sections of the halter.
I found this a great way to keep the horse’s head comfortable and prevent rubs when traveling long distances.
Old fashion leather tendon boots were usually lined with real wool. This makes a comeback as a liner for modern, technical horse boots.
Finally, if you are familiar with the different types of English bridles, you will notice that grackles, otherwise known as Mexicans or figure 8 nosebands contain a small circle of wool at the center where the straps cross.
Here are some beautiful examples of horse tack using genuine sheepskin.
Benefits of Real Sheepskin
Genuine sheepskin has many benefits and is my preference over synthetic fibers. Natural fibers are much kinder to the skin.
According to the United States Dressage Federation, here are some of the many benefits of using this material. 
- – Shock absorbing
- – Excellent moisture wicking ability
- – Great at temperature regulation
- – Breathable
- – Strong and durable
- – Traps air and keeps its spongy texture
- – Helps distribute pressure evenly.
- – Reduces the risk of pressure points according to this 2021 study published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 
- – Does a great job of absorbing sweat
- – Bacteria resistant
- – Gentle against the skin
- – Super soft and comfortable
Check out this gorgeous sheepskin saddle.
@volodichevaanna #sheepskin, #treeles, #treelessaddle, #getcomfy, #barebackpad, #pad, #меховоеседло, #безленчиковоеседло, #пад, #седлакомфи ♬ оригинальный звук – wailinggod
Drawbacks of Real Sheepskin
The benefits of using real wool outweigh the negatives when comparing the pros and cons. However, there are some cons, which busy riders might find too tedious when deciding what material to use.
- It is more expensive than synthetic fleece
- If it still contains the leather portion, it takes a long time to dry after washing
- You can’t just stick it in a regular wash. You need to use detergent, especially for wool and gentle cycles.
Uses of Synthetic Fleece Horse Equipment
Since its invention, synthetic fleece has become extremely popular for many items, both for humans and horses. It is used for all of the same pieces of tack I mentioned for genuine sheepskin.
For a quick review, this includes saddle pads, girth covers and lining, tendon boots, halters, western saddle skirt liners, and seat savers.
You will also find fake fleece on modern saddle pads just at the wither area and lining the underside.
Many horse blankets contain fleece at the withers or line the top half.
One blanket I really love is sold by Kentucky Horsewear. They call it rabbit skin. However, it isn’t rabbit skin but a synthetic fleece that has a fine texture and is exceptionally soft like real rabbit fur.
In addition to the equestrian equipment I already mentioned, fleece is the primary material used to make polo wraps.
Polo wraps are stretchy bandages that many riders, particularly those the ride dressage, use on their horse’s legs during exercise.
You can also easily find halters that have a permanent synthetic fleece lining. Polar fleece is a trendy material used for horse coolers. It is good value, and I have several fleece coolers myself.
While I like artificial fleece for many things, it does have its benefits and drawbacks. Like comparing synthetic saddles vs leather, natural materials are almost always of higher quality for horse tack.
Benefits of Synthetic Fleece
- Inexpensive and often budget-friendly
- Lots of uses
- Easy to wash and maintain
- Comfortable for the horse
- Gentle on skin
- Reduces rubbing
- Lovely and soft, especially if it is high quality
- Fibers don’t break down quickly
Drawbacks of Synthetic Wool
- While it does wick and absorbs some sweat, it does a poor job of this compared to genuine wool
- It does absorb shock but does a much poorer job of it than sheepskin
- It is not bacteria resistant
- Looses its fresh fluffy look after a few washes
- White can lose its brightness over time, making it less attractive
- Not as breathable as wool
- Does not release trapped heat well
How To Care For Sheepskin Equestrian Gear
Even though sheepskin is more expensive, I’ve always found that it has a longer lifespan and keeps if new look much longer.
However, you need to care for it properly.
For daily maintenance, simply give the fleece a quick brush after each use. This will remove dirt a fluff up the wool fibers. Equestrian tack experts, Dover Saddlery, recommends using a find tooth dog brush. 
The United States Dressage Federation makes the excellent suggestion of giving the wool and quick vacuum. 
When washing sheepskin, use only wool-friendly detergent and put it on a cold, delicate cycle. Then hand it to dry in an area not exposed to sunlight, and UV rays can damage the fibers.
If your item has the leather attached, you will need to gently stretch it a few times while wet to prevent it from shrinking.
If your western saddle skirt has a sheepskin lining, you must clean it by hand. To dry, place the saddle on a saddle rack with openings so air can access it.
For a visual tutorial, take a look at this equestrian’s sheepskin washing tips.
How To Care For Synthetic Fleece Equestrian Gear
Synthetic fleece is much easier to wash. You can put it in the washing machine on a standard cycle, just not too hot. You can even throw it in the dryer.
Sometimes, I like to give it a brush after washing to reduce the synthetic sheepskin fibers matting for a saddle of half pads.
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Saddle Fleece Replacement
If your western saddle has a synthetic lining, it will sometimes need to be replaced. If you wonder how much does a horse saddle cost? Whether it has wool or synthetic fleece affects the initial price.
The cost to replace sheepskin on a saddle will vary depending on if it is real or fake material, the quality of the fabric, and tradesperson prices in your location.
To see how this is done, take a look at the saddle expert’s process of a saddle fleece replacement job.
Is sheepskin good for horses?
Sheepskin is fantastic for horses. It is gentle for their skin, breathable, regulates temperature, and prevents pressure points.
Can you use sheepskin as a saddle pad?
Yes, you can use sheepskin as a saddle pad. It is an excellent material for this purpose for all riding disciplines. Many saddles pads have wool linings, or entirely wool saddle pads are extremely popular.
Saddles Sheepskin vs Synthetic – What is better?
From my experience comparing sheepskin to synthetic options, sheepskin is better for most horse tack items. However, fake fleece is excellent and has move uses.
As you can see, when it comes to saddles sheepskin vs synthetic, there are plenty of pros and cons to each. It is pretty similar to looking at synthetic vs. leather saddle choices’ benefits and drawbacks.
I’m a big fan of the real thing, and when it comes to the best saddle pads for western saddles, they use natural material. The same goes for English tack.
What is your preference? Let me know. I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.
- 1. Bryant J. Accessed April 11, 2022. https://www.usdf.org/EduDocs/Tack/Saddle_Pads.pdf
- 2. Caring for Genuine Fleece | Dover Saddlery. www.doversaddlery.com. Accessed April 11, 2022. https://www.doversaddlery.com/caring-for-genuine-fleece/a/409/
- 3. MacKechnie-Guire R, Fisher M, Pfau T. Effect of a Half Pad on Pressure Distribution in Sitting Trot and Canter Beneath a Saddle Fitted to Industry Guidelines. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. Published online October 2020:103307. doi:10.1016/j.jevs.2020.103307
Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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