The classic variety: lambskin pads
Lambskin peeking out from the front and back of the saddle is the ideal for many, with some riders choosing a saddle pad for fashion reasons alone. This is not without its dangers – as we explained above, when such a pad is placed under a saddle that doesn’t take this extra padding into account, that saddle will become too narrow for the horse. A lambskin pad makes sense when it’s used as a compensator. “I recommend lambskin pads when horses have lost muscle tone, for rehabilitation in transitional periods”, says Master Saddler Tom Büttner. Lambskin pads have many beneficial properties, such as breathability, sweat absorption and good pressure distribution. Büttner also thinks they are fine for when the rider doesn’t yet have a good seat, simply in order to go easy on the horse’s back as they create a bit of additional padding between the horse’s back and the saddle.
Spine freedom with saddle pads
Many high-quality pads are designed so that the horse’s spine is free of pressure. That makes sense, because the horse shouldn’t bear the rider’s weight there (we described in detail where a horse should carry a rider’s weight in an article here on the wehorse blog titled “Does Your Saddle Fit? How to Test It Yourself
Caution: synthetic saddle pads
They look like lambskin pads, but are made of synthetic materials: pads made of synthetic fur are naturally cheaper than lambskin. But you’re not doing your horse any favors! This material heats up fast and is bad at wicking away moisture. “The friction from movement will cause a synthetic lambskin pad to heat up faster than natural or higher quality materials. This causes temperatures one would rather avoid!”, says Büttner. “It can even lead to inflammations.” Exercise caution when choosing a saddle pad made of synthetic lambskin – and not just pads. With any synthetic lambskin product, one should consider whether it will heat up from friction during use. If the answer is yes, then one should then ask whether this could cause damage.
Rubber foam and felt saddle pads
Lambskin isn’t the only material that’s recommended. The saddler mentions natural rubber as also being a good choice. The varieties of rubber foam products are endless. Many provide good pressure distribution, but fail when it comes to breathability. This should be kept in mind when choosing a saddle pad. Felt saddle pads score points for breathability, and remain popular in English-style horse riding.
From felt to lambskin
Felt is crafted from sheep’s wool, and so felt pads share many properties with lambskin pads. A felt pad’s firmness will depend on its production. “The drawback to choosing a saddle pad made of felt will be its care”, says Büttner, “and for this reason these largely have been replaced by lambskin pads in equestrian sport”. Simply airing them, as is often recommended, offers no long term solution. “At some point the sebum will accumulate like a layer of fat and that’s just not attractive.” And then there’s the build-up of skin and hair. For every horse hair there’s a sebaceous gland and a perspiratory gland, and the secretions that they produce will eventually land on the saddle pad.