When I was growing up, I remember sitting at the edge of the field watching the horses. They weren’t really doing too much…eating grass, whipping their tails at the flies, occasionally looking toward the fence to see what I was up to. But I loved every single moment. Not thinking of anything but how very beautiful they were and how lucky I was to be able to ride them.
And to be honest, back then, when I was preparing my horse for a ride, the condition of my saddle pad never entered my mind. But, I’m all grown up now and it’s my responsibility to be sure that I’m protecting my horse when I ride.
Saddle Pads for Treeless Saddles
I ride with a Freeform Treeless saddle and the saddle pad I use and its structure is an important component to ensure that my horse’s back is protected. Because of the increased likelihood of a treeless saddle being able to bear down on the spine of the horse, the right saddle pad can make all of the difference in the world when it comes to spinal clearance.
3 Recommended Features in a Saddle Pad for Your Treeless Saddle
In my opinion, and the opinion of many pioneers in treeless saddles, there are three (3) features that you should be searching for in your saddle pad for your treeless saddle.
First: A saddle pad with a channel down the center seam
This means that there is no foam or padding at the center seam. This allows for additional clearance as there is nothing to press down on the spine. This channel also means an extra layer of protection and elevation from the saddle above the spine giving full clearance. A great test for spinal clearance using your saddle pad and saddle: Place a string down the spine of your horse and then put your tack on your horse being sure to tighten your girth. Now, get into your saddle and from the back of the saddle, pull the string out. The string should slide easily down the channel formed by the saddle pad.
Second: The ability to shim
This is certainly not a requirement, but HIGHLY recommended. There are three (3) benefits to your saddle pad having pockets that allow you to shim. You have the ability to insert shims ensuring the best possible fit for your horse. The pockets mean that you can remove the internal foam structures allowing for washing AND the ability to replace the foam inserts as necessary without the additional expense of purchasing an entirely new saddle pad.
Third: Open cell foam
You will find this topic is debated at length and can get quite heated (open cell vs. closed cell foam). However, after having viewed the performance of open cell foam saddle pads (vs. closed cell foam) and the comfort of the horse on 50 and 100 mile endurance rides, unless you are a heavy rider*, the open cell foam is going to be our recommendation. It not only allows for protection of the horse but also for the escape of heat from the horse’s back.
There are several saddle pad brands that meet the above recommendations. With the advancement of technology making treeless saddles a better and more viable product, saddle pad manufacturers are taking notice and more and more brands are meeting the above recommendations.
My personal brand recommendations: Equipedic Saddle Pads, HAF Equitation Saddle Pads, Toklat T3 Matrix Saddle Pads and Skito Saddle Pads.
*If your body mass is greater than 175 lbs, you may wish to consider adding a thin (1/4") layer of closed cell foam or Poron for additional protection for your horse's back. Open cell foam alone may not have the ability to lift your weight off of your horse’s back.