Winning Combinations: Saddle Pads That Are Truly #Betterforbacks

Max in the all new S-Curve half pad by SedeLogic. Photo credit CJ Millar. Max in the all new S-Curve half pad by SedeLogic. Photo credit CJ Millar.

After testing shimmed saddle pads (To Shim or Not To Shim blog), I moved on to half pads focused on shock absorption and back issues. I have so many horses that finding a saddle pad that works for all their different needs really was more of a challenge than I origianlly thought. So for this round we pulled out another set of saddle pads and another bunch of horses along with my trusty equine chiropractor Dr. Leah for even more feedback!

Here were the saddle pads tested this go round:

I’ll admit that while the shimmable pads were a must for me to adjust saddle fit, I had several horses that I was really excited to try out these half pads on that the saddle already fit really well. You could say that finding the right fit + comfort + cushion for my horses has become a bit of a passion of mine.

ECP Saddle Pads

ECP has a great selection of saddle pads that offer both non-slip and air flow features. Photo courtesy of CJ Millar.

We started with the ECP pad on my high withered OTTB Sky, because I have a friend that uses one and swears by it, and Sky sweats a ton, so I am always looking for a way to keep him comfortable without causing excessive heat under the saddle. Underneath all the half pads, I’ve been using my Draper saddle pads for the most part, due to their wicking properties and circulatory benefits, but even so, my one horse overheats very easily. He is also sensitive backed, so a great candidate for this test.

The ECP pad did pretty well for him; however, he tends to need a shimmed pad, so I could either use both together or a thicker under pad until his official saddle comes in (right now he’s in a medium tree County Solution but should be in a medium narrow). He did stay noticeably cooler in this pad, but he was still pretty sensitive to the touch in his lower back when we were done.

To get a better feel for the pad, I also used it under the lunging surcingle as he’s very sensitive skinned as well. In this case, I noticed that he didn’t get rubs from the surcingle, and he wasn’t nearly as sweaty as he would be with a normal half pad. Excellent! So while this wouldn’t work for him on its own right now, it definitely did what it promised — has shock absorption properties with great cooling benefits so I would absolutely recommend this for a horse whose saddle fits well but tends to get hot and needs a little more cushioning underneath.

Next I tried the other pads on array of horses and found that each horse had different preferences. Max, a 7 year old Oldenburg, was a great sport in the ring as we tested all three SedeLogic saddle pads, the EquineLux, and the Kingsland on him.

The 1-3 Ply SedeLogic fit him well, as he really doesn’t need saddle adjustment, and the added padding under the back will be very useful as he learns to fox hunt this fall and spring when we are out for several hours and I want to be sure he doesn’t get sore. The 2 Ply SedeLogic wasn’t a great fit because his saddle already fits well and it was just a hair too thick for his somewhat broad shoulders. The EquineLux offered great non-slip qualities but with the foam inserts, was too thick, and without, it was just a plain non-slip pad which he doesn’t really need. The Kingsland I had high hopes for, but alas, it was not to be. It was just a little too thick for him and he was uncomfortable in the shoulders.

We eventually settled on the SedeLogic S-Curve, which we saved for last due to the added 10 min or so to heat it up and get it set. And the result was totally worth it!

Comparing the SedeLogic 2 Ply (left) to the S-Curve (right)

Comparing the SedeLogic 2 Ply (left) to the S-Curve (right). You can see the space for the shoulder blade to move freely under the saddle with the S-Curve. Photo provided by CJ Millar.

Interestingly enough, while the saddle pad takes a few minutes to heat up the thermoplastic and then a few more minutes of just sitting on the horse and then walking to let it conform, the process wasn’t nearly as cumbersome as I expected, and you only need to do this before your first ride with the pad.

And the results were amazing! The cutout in the shoulder gave him a lot more room to move and his stride was noticeably longer. His back was protected and while he doesn’t traditionally have back issues, I could feel that even if I shifted around up there, the shock was nicely distributed to minimally impact his ability to move forward with a large, flowing gait. Even more amazing was that they use a special thermoplastic in the pad that is breathable so it didn’t cause Max to increase in his sweating at all — which was a concern since some thermoplastics are not breathable and can retain heat.

I almost wished I had a horse with back issues that I could test this on (almost…). It was such an impressive saddle pad that I feel I can’t really do it justice here with so much to cover, so stay tuned for a feature on High Tech Half Pads where I can explain more about what makes this saddle pad so great!

Kingsland Relief Pad

The Kingsland Relief Pad has some really cool features! Photo provided by CJ Millar.

After figuring out what was best for Max, I pulled out Cole, my 8 year old Dutch Warmblood gelding. He’s green, unbalanced, learning how to really move with a rider, and was also being dragged out on my upcoming camping trips. We found that the SedeLogic 2 Ply did best in the ring as he still has some growing and filling out to do, had the room under the saddle for this to fit comfortably, and it provided such great shock absorption that it allowed him to figure out his balance without being hypersensitive to every single little movement I made on his back. It definitely went in the trailer to come camping!

Out camping, Cole used a combination of the 2 Ply SedeLogic on shorter rides, and the Kingsland half pad on longer rides. Between the two, we found that in extreme conditions (90+ degrees and 80% humidity over 10 – 18 miles of trails in the mountains per day!) the Kingsland offered better breathability and non-slip features on top of the shock absorption. Thickness of the 2 Ply was a hair less than the Kingsland, so the 2 Ply would be my choice in the ring or at home while the Kingsland would be my choice out on trails as well as jumping larger fences where the saddle may move more.

Yes, we really went down that hill...all the way down! (photo by CJ Millar)

Yes, we really went down that hill… all the way down! Photo by CJ Millar.

While camping, my friend had an issue with her horse’s saddle fit, and the EquineLux pad came to the rescue! It took up the space she needed to give her mare a better fit, and stayed put on the extreme up-and-down mountainous terrain we covered and they both finished the day happy and sound. Our other friend took the opportunity to snatch up the SedeLogic 2 Ply for her horse, a high withered TB with very wide shoulders and good topline, and it also provided some great benefits. Because it was slightly thinner than the Kingsland, her horse had more shoulder room than with a thicker half pad, and again still offered amazing shock absorption on the hills, so in her case the 2 Ply SedeLogic was the winner.

Back home after a week on the trails, I pulled out all of these saddle pads for one more go-round on back-sensitive Sky. Unfortunately, Sky didn’t fit with the medium tree saddle and any of the special pads that focus on backs by SedeLogic or EquineLux, so we passed on riding in those. However, we got lucky with the Kingsland Relief Pad and this came out our big winner. Because of the slightly thicker components, coupled with the amazing breathability (a must with his heat and sweating issues), we were able to actually ride without a shimmed saddle pad in the medium tree! In Sky’s case, he tends to have higher withers and a narrower space on either side, widening into his shoulders so even when he does have a saddle that fits better, the Kingsland will be his big winner. And like the SedeLogic S-Curve pad, it is way too technologically advanced to do justice here, so I’ll include both pads in the upcoming High Tech Half Pads feature.

the Kingsland Relief Pad worked great in the mountains

We also climbed to the top of the Vista – and the Kingsland Relief Pad stayed put both up and down the massive climb to get to this amazing view! Photo by CJ Millar.

To make it easy, I’ve summarized my top picks for saddle pads between here and the original To Shim or Not To Shim blog along with the types and conformation of horses they seem to work best on. Enjoy!

Quick Half Pad Guide:

  • Total Saddle Fit Six Point Half Pad — great for horses that are changing shape, need adjustability and customization underneath their saddle, or are between tree sizes, recovering from injury or rehab, and basically any situation where you need a customized saddle pad to adjust how your saddle fits. Amazing pad with everything you need to assure your saddle fits every time. Retail price $179.95.
  • EquineLux BufferLux half pad with pockets saddle pad was great for horses that are a little higher in the spine without having any one sensitivity issue or back pain problem, but still need added cushion. The non slip grip was superior for going up and down steep hills, and would also be great in a hunt field. Great all around pad at an affordable price point ($120 retail price).
  • Air Ride by ECP half pad — great for under lunging tack, or for a horse where the saddle fits, but they are heat sensitive and just need a little more shock absorption. Great for in and out of the ring, and a super price point at just $55 that makes it a must-have in the barn.
  • The SedeLogic half pads which included:
    • 2 Ply Half Pad — excellent for a horse with a little room under the saddle but not so much as to need shims, that is also sensitive throughout the back. Great for long/hard riding, jumping, and also flat work where you want to make sure that the horse can still feel your seat but not cause any back pain. Ideal for everyday use. Also comes in a 1 Ply option for horses that have less space under the saddle but still want that great shock absorption. (Retail price $185 – $240 depending on saddle size.)
    • Orthopad Half Pad which is the 1-2-3 ply from front to back for horses that need less in front and more in back is wonderful for horses that need added cushioning or lift in the cantle, or if your girth causes your saddle to pop up in the back over fences (check your girth style and fit — that will be another blog still to come!).
    • S-Curve Half Pad with customizable thermoplastic is excellent for horses with a well fitting saddle but back issues, lower back pain, old injuries, chiropractic issues, and more. Great freedom of shoulder movement with amazing back support. Retails at $265 – $279. Worth the added time to set up, and you can reheat it and reset the plastic for different horses or if your horse changes shape again. Best fit available for broad shouldered Warmbloods that have chronic back issues such as kissing spine.
  • Kingsland Relief Pad was the winner for my OTTB with high withers that usually needs a shimmed pad and is as back-sensitive as they come, while also being heat sensitive. This pad comes in one thickness with different densities based on your weight and riding discipline so that you always get what you need (and more is not always needed). Also worked great on my developing Dutch Warmblood out on trails and offered solid non-slip grip in an easy to wash cover. Retails at $249.

Happy riding! Have a saddle pad you love? We’d love to hear your story about what half pads you find are #betterforbacks for your horses in the comments below.