One of those equipment items that seems to be a widely discussed and ever changing topic is the Elusive rare species, the perfect endurance saddle pad. I never would have imagined that this piece of equipment would create so many headaches in the decision making process for me, constantly having to reassess things. Usually, being decisive comes easy for me, but this sport has me feeling like Brett Favre these days (ha!).
In the last month, JB and I have been traveling longer miles in the saddle. Longer miles than we have ever done before. His back is not giving him any trouble , thankfully, but I find myself changing my pad configuration up quite frequently to make sure I avoid that problem. My saddle is a Duett Companion Trail II and fits him quite well so I don't have to worry about padding to improve saddle fit.
Even with a good fitting saddle, I have found that pad requirements can change depending on weather, distance, or how JB appears to be feeling that day. 15 miles in steep country is a different ride than 15 miles down a flat dirt road. I try to keep terrain in mind when making the pad decision for the day.
Since last summer, I have made due with what I have on hand, my large collection that has accumulated over the years. (I am a bit of a tack hoarder). As I add more miles and look toward next season, I hope to refine my pad choices for the best results.
When I started perusing the many endurance sites out there with pads to sell, I realized I would be taking my time on this decision. There are enough choices to make any person dizzy. While I certainly don’t have enough years of experience on the endurance race scene, I have narrowed it down to the following 11 features I am looking for in a pad when making my decision. I used these 11 features to compare 8 different pad choices.
1. I prefer natural fibers against my horse; e.g wool, wool felt, sheepskin are all top choices
2. Ease of care is a nice perk, but #1 is more important to me.
3. Affordability- I like a discount as much as the next person, but if it means my horse and I are more comfortable and the quality is there, I don’t mind paying a bit more.
4. Good back protection for my horse without feeling like there is a mattress between my horse and me. I prefer closer contact.
6. Lightweight- even when wet with sweat.
7. I want something with impact protection, because no matter how well or light a person rides, even 30 miles is still 30 miles of vibration on a horses back, so I like the foam insert idea but keeping in mind # 4 and #5 (stay away from gel, it doesn’t breathe and creates heat build up)
8. Durability; holds up well to multiple washings and many hours of use.
9. I want something that doesn’t collect every hay fiber or particle of dust that floats by us.
10. I want to have at least two pads to switch between so refer to #3.
11. This one is more of a personal preference, pet peeve thing. I don’t like the idea of a pad, or a girth for that matter, that grips the horse, like neoprene or some of the other tacky type backings often seen on pads. (just take neoprene and rub it against your own skin while applying some pressure and you’ll see what I mean…) It’s been my experience that the pulling that occurs with a grippy pad backing can actually tear muscle fibers. I know the idea is that the sweat lubricates the material and allows it to glide, but I would rather just keep to more natural fibers if I can.
So there they are…Too Picky? .. Maybe… but my horse’s comfort as well as my comfort are crucial if we are to ever be successful at this sport.
I have taken those 11 features and used them in reviewing the following pads;
Toklat Woolback Endurance pad with inserts- I will keep this straight forward, I did not like this pad at all. It passed #1, #11 and #4, and #7 with flying colors but it failed miserably on #2 , # 4 , #6, #9. I sent it back as soon as I pulled it out of the box…Need I say more?
Diamond Wool-Wool Felt – Square Western Cut -1” thickness and ½” thickness. I like this pad overall and frequently use this pad for my conditioning rides, but it’s a bit big for an English saddle. I could cut it to size but I also like to use this pad under my western saddle. It does well for #1, #3, #4, #5 , #8 , #11 and okay in #7 . It fails in #2, # 6, and # 9. It absorbs a lot of moisture and then gets extremely heavy when wet. Cleaning this pad is not overly difficult, just very time consuming because I have to hose and scrub it with a dandy brush and takes 2 full days to dry in the sun. Overall, it’s a good back up pad that is highly versatile if needed but not my first choice for a distance pad. I have about 4 of these on hand , all different thicknesses.
5 Star Wool Pads- These are excellent quality pads but have some of the similar issues as the Diamond wool pads . They are much more expensive than Diamond wool however. 5 Star’s are overall a great pad for arena or light trail work but I wouldn’t choose this for a distance pad.
Dover Quilted square AP saddle pad used along with a Toklat Woolback AP pad (without inserts)This combination actually does a nice job protecting JB’s back on longer rides and seems to breathe well. It’s Royal blue so he looks pretty snazzy in color!. I rate it high on # 2, #3 #, 5,# 6 when used in conjunction with the Woolback AP. Without the Woolback, it would not offer enough back protection. The part I don’t like is having to deal with lining up two pads. It is also difficult to use both sets of pad keepers, so the dressage pad ends up slipping back sometimes. I bought both pads in new condition for a used price of $10 .It was a priced right and has worked in the short term but I probably would not use this for any distance longer than a 25 mile ride. ****The Dover blue pad is pictured above on JB with a wither relief half pad that I use for arena work on occasion.
Haf Italia Pad- Although I have not purchased one, I like a lot of what these pads offer. They are pricey but they are easy to clean, they are supposed to be the best breathing pad out there and also offer good back protection. All of this sounds really good, although it hard to know what’s marketing and what’s true until you try it. I am still not convinced of the grippy material on these pads and this has been the one reason I have not purchased one. I would probably have to try one for a few rides to be convinced. I might keep my eye out for a used one.
Equipedic- I am heavily considering this as one of my main pads. Can’t find anything I don’t like about this one yet except the price, over $200 from most retailers. The Conforpedic Impact reduction Material is supposed to be good but I have read some testimonials that once the material squishes down, it stays that way. I would be curious about the impact protection of this material. Overall the testimonials have all been more positive then negative. Several riders at the Pan American Championship races loved these .
Skito- Same as above on the material squishing down. These seem to look a bit... well…. “chincy” for what the price is. Not really sold on the overall appearance.
I saved the best for last:
Fleeceworks- This company has been around for a while in the dressage and English discipline, but they just released a new line specific for endurance and trail in August . The entire endurance series comes with full inserts. They are removable through a Velcro enclosure at the top of the pad. They come in models related to distance, which is a bit of a different take. There are 3 different options to choose from. 25, 50’s and 100’s. The 50's and 100's are a bamboo/soy top with a 100% bamboo backing and batting. They are designed for the distance of the race. The 25 does not have the bamboo and is made from merino wool not sheepskin. It is a no frills pad designed for conditioning and getting into the sport. The 100 and 50 are very high tech and are ergonomically cut, have the bamboo, are top of the line sheepskin or sheepskin wool combo and are sewn together with SCUBA tread. The website is not updated with all the information on these pads but they have great customer service. I have a friend who has been using this over the last couple of weeks and putting a lot of miles on her horse. She feels these are by far the best endurance pads she has used to date, exceeding the Haf pad and Skito’s.
So , my two choices will be the Equipedic and/or Fleeceworks pads.
Feel free to comment on your own preferences and what you have found to work or just what's on your wish list for equipment. I know Mel over at Boots and Saddles has done her own review of saddle pads, which I found very helpful. Hopefully, someone can gain some wisdom from my quest to find the right pad and save themselves a few steps.