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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Saddle pads - 7/7/09 update

7-7-09 update - after preriding The 30+ miles from Robinson Flat to Foresthill on the Tevis trail I have revised my haf pad review.

Saddle blankets and pads can either be the biggest headache of your riding OR absolutely out of mind trouble free. When I started in endurance, it appeared that there were several "name brand" pads that people used. While this post is certainly not inclusive, I hope that it will help someone make some informed choices if they are looking for a new pad. If you have tried any of the pads and have an opinion, or love another pad that isn't listed, please post a comment.

If you don't want to read my commentary and want the "dry-bones" of my opinion, scroll to the bottom of the page.

I will update with photos this weekend......

Military issue Wool Blanket
This will be our starting point in evaluating the other blankets/pads. The blanket I use is a reproduction of the same type used with the 1859 McClellan saddles - navy blue with an orange stripe. There is a particular way of folding it, so that you end up with 6 layers of wool between the horse and saddle, and a neat fold in the front (fold lengthwise, then in thirds). I've used this type of blanket for many years in both a civil war reenactment capacity, endurance, and recreational riding.

1. What I love: When you untack you have a cooler for the horse. In an emergency (or not) you have a way to keep warm. The blanket does not distort the fit of the saddle (but doesn't give super duper protection either). During rest stops you can refold the blanket and put a fresh side against the horse. This is possible NINE times. With a surcingle this blanket makes a great bareback pad - not too slippery, protection for both you and the horse. Wool can be a good choice for horses with sensitive skin.

2. What's annoying: The blanket isn't contoured, so if you have a horse with a very "contoured" back, it can be difficult to get the blanket to lie so that there aren't any wrinkles. In any case, no matter what the horse's back looks like, it does take extra effort to get blanket to lay flat on ALL layers. The blanket can look sloppy if the time isn't taken to fold it precisely. Washing the blanket is annoying. Your best bet is to put in a tub and soak it, changing the water periodically. I know some people use commercial washers. Once clean, it takes very little time to dry because unfolded, it's actually comparatively thin.

3. What I HATE: Especially under extremely slick saddles (like rawhide covered McClellan's) this blanket will move back NO MATTER what you do. To be acceptable (ie only getting off every hour or so instead of every 20 minutes) your girth MUST be tight. This drives me batty. It does better under less slick saddles such as the leather underside of a Duett, and best under a rough surface like the synthethic Thorowgoods. It stays in place well enough that I use it as a schooling blanket during the week.

Toklat Woolback
Wool pile blanket, usually shaped to fit the saddle. I bought my used for a reasonable price and have used it as a conditioning pad and during actual endurance rides under a number of different saddles. Toklat makes a similar synthetic pad called a "coolback", but I have not used it. These pads have several options including foam inserts and a wither relief shape. I refer to only the regular profile pad with no inserts.

1. What I Love: Pad seems very durable. I got it used and have used it for over a year with hard riding and the condition has not changed. I like the thought of using 100% wool next to the horse. I have a standard dressage shape (probably oversize) and it's fit most saddles I've put on it. Because of the thickness I felt that it gave moderate protection to the horses back.

2. What's Annoying: The pad is fairly thick and I feel it can distort the saddle fit. That being said, I did not actually experience an issue. The pad is fairly bulky and can get very heavy with sweat. If you have a wide horse, with a wide twist saddle, the extra bulk under the leg is not ideal for close contact. My legs are short and my heels BARELY come down under the edge of the pad. I had to really work to get my leg on the horse. I did have trouble with this pad sliding back with some saddles - namely the synthetic Thorowgood. It would slide ALL the way against the keepers, which would put the saddle right on the edge of the pad. This couldn't be fixed by making the keepers tighter.

3. What I HATE: Unsaddling at out checks was a BEAR. Since the pad is fuzzy all around - top and bottom - it was difficult/impossible to keep dirt and debris off of it, unless there was a fence handy, or I remembered to throw a tarp in my crew bag. Anything that did get on it couldn't be brushed off. It was a PAIN in the A$$ to wash. I think most people use slicker brushes to maintain the pads between washings and only wash occasionally. I didn't find that the slicker brushes did a whole lot, and I didn't wash it very often because there was no good way. I tried hosing it off and putting it in a tub. The bottom line was that it never got really clean and it took 3-4 days to dry. At colder multi day rides that don't have very very dry air, don't expect your pad dry out over night. The not washing pads very often might be OK for people with cleaner horses, but most of the time, mine get a cursory grooming only which makes for dirty saddle blankets.

Skito Equalizer Pad
These pads seem to come in unlimited options and combinations. Synthetic blend or 100% wool bottom choice, custom made for every saddle shape and size, very cool fabrics and patterns for the top, choices of inserts and shims, and a "cool back" option which is some sort of fancy fabric over the top of the pad that is suppose to keep the horse's back cooler during hot weather. I have a very simple pad - 100% wool bottom with a black cordova top, regular set of inserts (1/2" - I think - foam). I purchased this pad new, specifically for my Duett saddle, although it works well (shape wise) with my Solstice.

1. What I Love: Pad is very durable, even with multiple washings. I have washed this pad more often than any other pad I own, because it's so easy to wash and dries so quickly. The pad doesn't create ANY bulk under my leg and is wonderful. It stays put and has good wither clearance. Again, I like the thought of using 100% wool next to the horse. The pad is light and when saddling/unsaddling at away vet checks I don't even think about it. It doesn't gather dirt and debris like the woolback.

2. What's Annoying: Getting the hair off inserts is not easy. My horse's hair is sticking in them like a weird mutant chia doll and without actually individually plucking the hairs out, they stay there. The keepers on the pad are entirely made of velcro (except not the fuzzy kind - it's actually very nice). While this is wonderful when using the pad (no more lining up velcro panels), taking it out of the washer is always interesting since there's no way for me to "isolate" the velcro from itself or the rest of my laundry (hey - I have to pay per load - one little lone saddle pad is NOT getting washed by itself). The foam inserts are very hard when cold. Either sleep with them at warm rides, or put the pad on the horses pad first thing in the morning to warm up. The pad inserts are suppose to absorb something like 90% of the shock to the horse's back. I'm not so sure - the pads seem very thin and they compress. After one 50, the pad stayed compressed for a while with the imprint of my saddle so I got to see just how much it compressed. How does it absorb shock when it stays compressed?

3. What I HATE: Nothing that I really HATE about this pad. Overall I'm very happy with it. I finally bought this one new after not wanting to deal with the woolback and the military blanket at rides anymore. I will say that the pad (especially after you take the inserts out) looks like something I could whip out on the sewing machine for a lot less money, but hey - my time is worth something too.

Haf Pad
This is a recent addition. I was (and still am) very happy with my skito, but after seeing this pad for a great price used, I couldn't resist. I was a little skeptical of the synthetic bottom - I really like using 100% wool, but Karen Chaton (see her blog on the right) seems happy with the pad and has done lots and lots of miles so obviously, it does work with at least some horses. I'm doing most of my tevis preriding in this pad to see if I want to choose it for at least a portion of the Tevis....because as you will see, it has some advantages over the others.

1. What I Love: I can spray this pad off (even with the inserts still in, since my version doesn't have velcro to remove them) and within an hour it's dry. Yep - clean dry pad. The pad is a BRILLIANT color of red. Absolutely gorgeous. The pad is a little bulkier under the leg than the skito, but once in the saddle, I don't notice the difference. This pad has AWESOME wither clearance. When I pull it up into the gullet, it STAYS there. Absolutely NO pressure on Farley's withers. The pad is medium weight and doesn't pick up debris. Farley's back seems cool after riding in this pad. Yes, her back is sweaty, but it seems like a "cooler" sweat than when using one of my wool pads. Hard to explain. The pad absolutely stays put, even with only the girth keepers and no billet keepers. No billet keepers mean that when I'm attaching my cantle bags to the billets, it's one less strap to worry about. Saddle gives the impression of being well made and of quality. Definitely not something I could whip up on my own.

2. What's Annoying: Is this pad machine washable? Even if it is (or isn't) will I even need to wash in a machine/tub? It sprays out so well. The pad inserts are thicker and softer than the skito. They do not retain an impression of my saddle after use. I'm not sure what they do in the cold because I've only used this pad in the summer months. Again I'm skeptical of claims that this foam provides significant impact protection for the horse's back.....but my horse certainly seems happy. The foam inserts are soft enough I don't think they change the fit of the saddle, but the pad does seem "thicker" than the skito. The little "bumps" on the bottom of the pad seem a little flatter where the saddle lies, so perhaps it doesn't shed sweat as well as when it was new - never having a new one, it's hard to say. None of the little "bumps" are missing or damaged so this pad seems to be holding up well.

3. What I HATE: So far nothing has jumped out at me. Give me another couple of hundred miles and I could probably come up with something. Probably the biggest thing with this pad is the price. Wow. I think I'll be shopping used for a while. LOL!
7-7-09 update: After riding the 30+ miles from Robinson Flat to Foresthill last weekend, I found that the trim on the back of the pad rubbed raw spots in Farley's back. Karen has suggested that I sew the trim up with dental floss. I plan on doing that and will retest the pad. With no major conditioning rides between now and the Tevis I think it would be too big of a risk to ride with this pad at the Tevis without giving the pad a good test with the trim sewn. I'm disappointed as I was VERY happy with the heat dissipation and how well put the saddle and pad stayed on the trail.

Conclusion Scoring:

The blankets will be scored in the following categories:
Saddle fit: Preserves the integrity of the saddle fit with no distortion
Washability: Easy to wash and dry. Holds up during multiple washings
Ease of Use: Do you need special folding skills? Does it have to be place JUST so? Or can you slap it on and go?
Longevity: Does it wear like iron?
Stays in place: Does it have a tendency to migrate?
Versatility: Can function as a blanket, cooler etc. , fit's more than one saddle type.
Protection: I don't have any scientific data for this one at all. This is truly just an opinion at how well the blanket will reduce impact to the horses back, protect it from the saddle, etc.

Army blanket:
Preserves integrity of saddle fit: A
Washability: C (but you have 9 clean sides to put against the horse)
Ease of Use: C (have to learn how to fold, be precise, get wrinkles out etc.)
Longevity: A
Stays in place under saddle: D
Versatility: A
Protection: C

Preserves integrity of saddle fit: C
Washability: D
Easy of Use: B (have to plan ahead during multidays for a dry blanket)
Longevity: A
Stays in place under saddle: B
Versatility: B (fit's most english type saddles I've tried on it, including a 1904 McClellan)
Protection: A

Preserves integrity of saddle fit: A
Washability: A
Easy of Use: A
Longevity: A
Stays in place under saddle: A
Versatility: B (So far fits the Duett and Solstice. I've heard that if the shape is too far off, there can be a slipping issue, but no personal experience)
Protection: C/B - not sure if I totally buy the manufacturer's claim.

Haf Pad:
Preserves integrity of saddle fit: B
Washability: A++
Easy of Use: A (***updated: need to watch the trim for evidence of rubbing and correct if necessary)
Longevity: A/B (not sure how the shape of the "bumps" affect the pads performance).
Stays in place under saddle: A
Versatility: A- (shape of pad should fit most endurance shaped, western, and McClellan's without skirts. and english saddles - unless there is a very long dressage flap). The "-" is because I've haven't had the pad long enough to really test the pad out on lots of different saddles.)
Protection: F (update: pad seems more resiliant than the skito pad, although for now the pad gets an "F" for protection since it rubbed spots in Farley's back. If I can correct this through sewing the trim back, this pad will get a "B" protection rating.


  1. I still use tolkat english fitted pads as well as cotten square pads.

    I do however own two cloud nine pads given to me by an endurance rider. I have riden in the english style once and probably never will again. It added like at least an inch to the bulk between me and my horse! Of course I am overly sensitive about there being to much bulk between me and my horse!
    I have also used the westen one as a half back pad on saddle that were a little too wide, and it was ok. I would never use these pads under a well fitting saddle I don't think.

    They are so thick, but soft that once you get on you have to tighten your girth again because your weight has depressed it. Personally I dont' care for that!

    I am still on the quest for the right pad, as soon as I find the right saddle!

  2. There's a cloud nine pad on sale at right now, but that's the first one I've seen. I've never seen one in person.

    Since I ride an english saddle with stuffed panels, I try to remember that I don't necessarily need a bulky pad. Although, the Mclellen saddles (which have NO padding) don't use bulky pads, so I'm not sure what the origin of the thick fluffy pads is? I wonder if it's a fairly new concept? My guess is that they came about because of more attention to saddle fit and trying to compensate for poor fit? Maybe to try and offset horses that were getting sore since they are mostly ridden in weekend warrior fashion? I think it would be interesting to trace the development of saddle pads/blankets over the ages. An side topic to the evolution of the mililtary saddle perhaps? Just random thoughts here.

    Keep us posted on the great saddle hunt! (and the great pad hunt, girth hunt, brush boot hunt, etc etc and the list goes on :) I don't know what endurance riders would talk about if we didn't have so much gear! (probably about horses, when we weren't yelling opinions and treating them like facts with eachother - but I digress) :)

  3. Love my Supracor, but some horses do not like the "feel" of them on their backs. They are fairly thin as to many pads, which work well for my Specialized Saddle, which is fit to my horse. Horse is wide, and a thick pad added so much bulk to other saddles, that were already barely wide enough. I started using the Supracor with my old Bighorn, and it got my horse through Tevis with a perfect back, so I have not changed.

    They are pricey at around $200-250 retail. They WILL eventually break down and loose the give they have, and just squish. Some have had issues with the binding around the edge rubbing, but I have not. I hose it off, scrub the leather binding with a horse brush, and hang to dry. A few times a year, I take an air hose and blow out the little holes that it has in it, to get it super clean. Contoured to shape of back.

  4. I have used the 5 Star wool saddle pads and Toklat. I prefer the wool against the horse as well. The way I figure, the guys in the cavalry rode miles after miles in wool. There must have been a reason , right? I have been eyeing some of these other pads you mention in your post but had little to no experience iwth any of them so I was very glad to see this post from someone who has clearly been through the "gamut" from the sounds of it. I have looked at the Skito pads but frankly was overwhelmed at the choices. Your post helped narrow it down some. For my english saddles and english riding I usually use a Roma or recently had to get a gel insert pad for my husbands horse. He needs a little extra support behind the shoulder blades. I will say that with gel inserts, if anyone is considering them, there are two things to keep in mind that are equally important. Make sure the gel inserts are not one piece that lays over the back. You want two separate inserts ideally and only for the area along the spine. Also make sure of no seams. The other things to keep in mind with gel pads is heat build up. They are HOT!!! My husband uses the pad for his horseback archery and doesn't have hours in the saddle. I would not recommend gel for endurance, although I see there are some out on the market. Not sure how that works out for the horses but I imagine they would still run on the hot side.

  5. I've got a temp probe and have actually measured the temperature under the saddle with various pads - Toklat, Skito, HAF and some others that I borrowed from friends. Most are only a couple of degrees apart which isn't an issue for most horses. Chief is super sensitive though and will get heat bumps if I remove a saddle too soon after finishing on a hot day. For him, the HAF pad is hands down the coolest pad that I've tried on him as far as keeping his back cool. I do watch the trim on it closely for rubbing. He did Schellbourne in June 250 miles and didn't have any pad rubbing so that was good. I've seen many pads not make it five days on the same horse - due to rubbing especially around trim so this is important to watch.

    The Toklat woolbacks are also a good pad, more bang for the buck because you can use both sides which is handy on a multiday. However, the last couple of Toklats that I got were not nearly the same quality as they "used to be". I guess that is true with a lot of things.

  6. I'll give an update tomorrow morning - but I had rubbing issues on the trim (just like Karen mentioned) on my preride from Robinson to Foresthill yesterday. :( I LOVE this pad in every other way, but won't be using it for Tevis. I'm not sure if there's a way to mitigate this, but at least for now, it stays on the rack.

  7. hey Mel - were you talking about using a HAF pad that the trim rubbed on? If so, you can sort of force the inserts in and push the trim up as high and over the top outer edge and get it out of the way. I've had luck doing that and keep and eye on it - it's been staying pretty good. You could get some dental floss or super strong thread and stew it back up so that it is facing towards the top of the pad and not down onto the horses back. Hope that makes sense. Dental floss is almost as essential as duct tape. :) Good luck.

  8. Yes I was talking about the Haf pad. That is a great idea, Karen. I'm going to try the dental floss and sew up the trim. Not sure if I'll chance it for tevis though since I don't have any more big training rides planned.