Welcome to EN’s Product Review series! Who doesn’t love shopping … especially when the object of your search is new gear for yourself or your horse? While browsing for gear is fun, sometimes it’s just overwhelming to search through all of the products that are available for you and your horse. Companies featured in my posts have very generously provided me with their products, so that I may try them out and share my own experiences with all of you! Of course, every horse and rider is a unique individual, so each product may perform differently for you and your horse then it does for me—after all, different things work for different people (and horses!), and that is all part of the variety of life! This column is meant only for me to recount my personal journey, and share my own and my horse’s experiences with all of the exciting products featured. While I will make no recommendations, I hope that you have fun and find entertainment while reading about my many adventures of trying new products, and that hearing about my personal experiences might help give you factors to consider when you are on your own quest for new gear!
I can’t even count the number of saddle pads that I’ve collected over the years. Seriously–in my early years of riding, I was a teenager who loved my colorful saddle pads. I’ll admit, that the
addiction collection actually started before I even got Ripley, my very first horse. Some girls wanted handbags. Others wanted shoes. And heck, some even just wanted a caboodles case full of fifty different shades of nail polish. Me, on the other hand? I wanted a fun and colorful collection of saddle pads, but of course! I mean, why stop at a different saddle pad for every day of the week?
As time has passed, I’ve found that my priorities have shifted, and many things in my life have changed. Of course, my love of riding has not (and I now have 2 young horses, in addition to Ripley to prove it!). My fondness for saddle pads has also stuck, except that I’ve now come to want to see more out of a pad than pretty designs or colors. Even though Ripley is aging…or further maturing as I like to call it (he just recently turned 24 years old), he is managing the years extremely well, and is still in regular work. With a “senior” Ripley, and two youngsters that I am bringing up as well, I am now starting to look to the padding that I use to be able to provide things such as 1) better support and protection from impact, 2) help fit my saddle to three completely different shaped horses (and hopefully keep it from slipping), and 3) look great and still be easy to manage and care for.
I’ve heard the name Fleeceworks for many years, and was totally psyched when I recently had the opportunity to try out some of their pads and shims. Now, the first thing that I associate when I hear someone mention the name “Fleeceworks” is a line of crisp and clean looking sheepskin pads. While I’ve always been a fan of the lovely appearance and luxurious feel of sheepskin pads, the time and effort required to keep the pads looking and functioning the way they should have honestly frightened me off of them for some time. I’m definitely a busy person with an ‘on the go’ lifestyle; so dedicating a chunk of my precious time to maintaining sheepskin wasn’t really something I was willing to commit to. Luckily for me, I was introduced to Fleeceworks‘s own line of Therawool pads.
The Therawool line of pads is the alternative that Fleeceworks offers for those of us who aren’t really looking to take the plunge, and make a commitment to up keeping a sheepskin pad. Therawool is actually Fleeceworks‘ very own creation, and it is made using the same wool fibers that are used to produce their line of sheepskin pads; but in this case, the wool is actually woven to a poly-acrylic backing. In this way, the Therawool line of pads are classified as being made of a ‘sustainable fiber’ because the sheep from which the wool comes from can be sheared multiple times over their lifetime. The line is also designed in a way so that the wool stays looking great even after it is washed. Seriously. After a pad is washed, just take a brush to it, and you can restore it it’s original appearance. That is a level of maintenance that I can handle. And, Therawool pads are priced more affordably than the traditional sheepskin. So Therawool technology not only makes me happy. It sounds like it makes sheep happy too.
I’ve been doing a lot of riding lately using the Therawool Modified Jumping Square Pad (or the Cross Country Square Pad). Not only does this pad incorporate all of the benefits of Therawool, but it is also part of Fleecework’s Perfect Balance System–so what does that mean, exactly? Well, the Perfect Balance System is available in a number of full and half pads, and the pads will actually work with a variety of inserts–and, there are different insert materials available! By using the system, you can invest in one pad, and then opt to purchase different inserts that you can change in and out. In my case, with my own three horses that are at different stages of their lives, have quite different confirmations, and have training schedules with various intensities; well, let’s just say that my pad needs to be able to meet the needs I have for each horse. That being said, I really like the idea of being able to swap different inserts into and out of a particular pad, so that it can work for each of my horses; and, I also have the ability to use the same inserts in any other pad that is a part of the Perfect Balance System. Mixing and matching at it’s finest!
So while I’ve been using the Therawool Modified Jumping Square Pad recently, I’ve been starting a journey to educate myself on what exactly all of the different types of shims and inserts can do for me, and more importantly, for my horses. I personally don’t believe that every insert will work for every rider or every horse, which is why I like that Fleeceworks offers a number of options, so that you can find what works for YOU and YOUR HORSE. To begin my own journey, I started out by trying out the memory foam lite inserts – these inserts are a light shade of yellow in color, and I actually doubled them up, as they are thin enough to do so, and they have enough give to stack if you need. What I found is that the memory foam lite inserts do have more “give” to them, when you press your finger into them, and wait for the memory foam material to rebound. I did notice a difference when I used the memory foam lite inserts; while they were not bulky enough to change the fit of the saddle, I could tell that there was a little extra padding there while I was riding. And another added benefit was the non-slip properties – I did not have a problem with the pad slipping on me when I used these particular inserts. So, in my case, I will definitely be swapping the memory foam lite inserts into the pad to use when I just want slight padding, that doesn’t change the balance of the saddle, but will help in a non-slip capacity.
I have also been trying out (and have become a frequent user of) the original gray-colored memory foam full inserts. When I pulled out and examined the line up of inserts and shims that I have to try out, I noticed that these particular inserts feel like they are made of more dense memory foam, and they take longer to rebound when you press your finger into them. They are certainly more bulky feeling when I picked them up, and I could tell the difference in the pad when I put the original memory foam full inserts into the square pad, especially when I sat it on my horse Ripley’s back. After tacking up, and heading out to ride, I noticed the difference in how the pad felt…and I mean I really noticed. I do a lot of my trot work sitting, and as I rode, I could most certainly tell that this insert was doing a very nice job with shock absorption for me–even compared to the memory foam lite inserts. I actually felt like I was riding on a bit of a cushion; I know that I really liked it, and I have to believe that Ripley had to have experienced a difference as well.
The idea of an insert to take on the role of acting as a shock absorption layer makes me feel good, especially where Ripley is concerned. I intend to keep him in work for as long as he wants to, and is able to be, as I feel like the activity keeps him feeling younger, and makes him seem vibrant and happy – but I pay very close attention to how he feels, and try my best to keep him from over-doing it. Using the original memory foam full inserts, along with a Perfect Balance pad seems to be a good fit for Ripley – the pad and insert together add a bit more extra padding under the saddle, and it helps to bring comfort to me as the rider, and hopefully Ripley too.
While bright and colorful saddle pads will always have a special place in my heart (and have not completely gone by the way side…what can I say, old habits…), I am actually having a lot of fun with trying out the Fleeceworks Perfect Balance System with the different inserts that are available. It is definitely an educational process for me, and I’ve already found that the first two inserts that I’ve tried–the memory foam lites and the original (gray) memory foam full inserts–can work for me in two different capacities. And, I’ve still got more to try, and I hope that you join me on my journey, as I continue to learn about what each insert and shim is able to do for me and my horses!
Go inter-changeable pads and inserts. Go Fleeceworks. Go Eventing.