Saddle Pads: Best Shock Absorber Identified in Study

If you've ever been in the market for a new saddle pad, you know there are a myriad of types to choose from. Many horse owners search for a product that reduces the pressure on their horse's back when working under saddle, and a team of Austrian researchers recently set out to determine what material might be best suited for the task.

Of four saddle pad materials (gel, leather, foam, and reindeer fur) tested by the Movement Science Group of the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria, reindeer fur provided the best shock absorption at the walk and sitting trot, according to a study.

"Saddle fit involves individual adaptation," said Christian Peham, head of the Movement Science Group, "It is difficult to make a general recommendation about the best material, but reindeer fur showed the best results."

The research team tested the four commonly used saddle pad materials by placing a pressure-sensing mat under the pad used beneath a well-fitting saddle. They recorded the forces on the backs of 16 sound horses of different breeds and ages ridden on a treadmill at a walk and a sitting trot. For comparison, the same horses were tested without a saddle pad at the same gaits.

None of the materials adversely affected saddle fit compared to no pad, the researchers noted, but the reindeer fur pad decreased forces on the back significantly when compared to forces recorded without a pad.

Movement dynamics are crucial when evaluating materials, according to Peham. "We saw that soft materials can sometimes harden with higher impact (as in trot). "Faster motion can also affect the ability for the material to relax."

The current study emphasizes that a well-chosen saddle pad can reduce the pressure on a horse's back when used with a well-fit saddle. Regardless of the material, "riders should check saddle fit regularly," said Peham.

The study, "The effects of different saddle pads on forces and pressure distribution beneath a fitting saddle," was published in the Equine Veterinary Journal. The abstract is available online.

About the Author

Nancy Zacks, MS

Nancy Zacks holds an M.S. in Science Journalism from the Boston University College of Communication. She grew up in suburban Philadelphia where she learned to ride over fields and fences in nearby Malvern, Pa. When not writing, she enjoys riding at an eventing barn, drawing and painting horses, volunteering at a therapeutic riding program, and walking with Lilly, her black Labrador Retriever.

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