Horse saddle pads come in a huge variety of sizes, shapes and materials. A successful saddle pad fits the saddle and horse's back.
SADDLE PAD SIZES
Half pad saddle pads are popular in hunter-jumper riding, and only cover a small part of the horse's back under the saddle. Half pads are usually highly padded, and often have rolls of fleece at the front or back.
SADDLE PAD SHAPES
The most basic saddle pad shapes are contoured, shaped and square.
Contoured (or "built-up", "wither-relief", "swayback" or "orthosport") saddle pads are raised in the front to lift the saddle off of the withers.
A shaped (or "numnah") saddle pad is saddle shaped, and is designed to be used alone, or with a square saddle pad. A shaped / numnah pad should only be slightly visible below the saddle.
The square (or "straight" or "rectangular") saddle pad is for horses which have straight, or round, mutton-withered backs.
Other saddle pad shapes that are available include:
Cutout (or "cut-back" or "wither-back") saddle pads have a cutout area over the withers. Cutout pads are designed for horses which have high withers, or who have pressure sores on the withers.
Round saddle pads are similar to square pads, except they have rounded corners. Round saddle pads are good for short-backed horses with low-average withers, and don't interfere with the horse's movement. Round saddle pads also fit saddles which have round skirts.
Correction saddle pads have 4 - 6 pockets where the rider can place thin shims to adjust the way the saddle fits on the horse.
SADDLE PAD PADDING AND MATERIALS
Quilted cotton blended with polyester is often used as the shell material on saddle pads. The advantages of cotton are that it is light weight, is good at wicking sweat, and is available in many colors. Disadvanteges are that cotton does not wear particulary well.
Memory foam is an open cell, polyurethane material that molds to the body and prevents pressure sores. The drawback to memory foam is that it is quite heavy, and expensive.
Sheep wool fleece pads provide more cushioning than synthetic fleece pads. However, wool fleece becomes matted and compacted over time, and requires more maintenance to dry from horse sweat. Synthetic fleece pads are not as cushioned as sheep wool fleece pads. However, synthetic fleece lasts longer over time, is easier to dry from horse sweat, and doesn't pull on horse hairs.
Gels are gelatin-like polymer materials that are solids, but which absorb shock and dissipate energy like liquids. The drawback to gels is that they are quite heavy, and expensive.
Neoprene is a synthetic, closed cell rubber. Neoprene saddle pads are good at distributing pressure, and at preventing sliping and clinging to the horse's back. Disadvanteges of neoprene are that it does not wick moisture, and can trap heat.
Polyester batting provides a very soft, pillow feel in the saddle pad.
Wool felt is made out of compressed wool. Felt is graded into 15 categories, and the lower the grade, the higher the felt is in virgin wool, strength and compression ability. Saddle pads are made from F10 - F15 wool felt, and pads that are F10 or F11 will be of superior quality. The benefits of wool felt are that they are good at absorbing shock and preventing pressure points from ill-fitting saddles. Wool felt is also effective at preventing heat buildup, and for wicking away sweat.
Woven wool is strong and can be made into any pattern or color.