Like peanut butter and jelly, saddles and saddle pads just go together. The saddle pad itself has been around for centuries. When the horse was first domesticated, saddle pads (called saddle blankets at the time) were the only piece of tack put on a horse’s back, primarily to protect the rider. With time, the saddle blanket became what we know as the English saddle pad and is now a buffer between the horse and the saddle, offering support and comfort. From the early Greeks to the knights of the Middle Ages and beyond, the saddle pad has been an essential part of a horse’s tack.

Even the materials have changed over time. Early saddle pads were made from animal hide, wool, and felt. As the centuries passed and equitation evolved, the saddle pad started using cotton and, later, synthetic materials, foam, and neoprene.

No matter the era, the saddle pad’s function has been clear: provide excellent cushioning and shock absorption, avoid chafing, and keep the horse cool while under saddle.

There are many types of saddle pads, even among disciplines. The English saddle pad has many different types, each made with comfort in mind. But when buying an English saddle pad, how do you choose among the many brands and types? We have a foolproof guide to help you go from an English saddle pad newbie to an expert.

The Different Types of English Saddle Pads

Saddle pads are not all alike; each one has a purpose. Some are specifically designed for a type of saddle or show; others are designed to provide more support under the saddle. Here are the most common types of saddle pads.

All-Purpose Saddle Pads

All-Purpose Saddle Pads are great for the all-purpose saddle. These pads are usually square and come in a variety of colors. They are perfect for trails, hacking, schooling, and many disciplines. These saddle pads are usually lightweight and breathable while also being up for whatever you want to do while in the saddle.

Close Contact Saddle Pads

Close Contact saddle pads are usually seen on jumpers and hunter/jumpers who use close-contact saddles. These pads are usually contoured and give you better connection as they give more leg contact and physical touch. Close-contact pads fit perfectly under close-contact saddles, lightly cushioning your horse's back while absorbing excess moisture.

Dressage Pads

Dressage pads are best used under dressage saddles. These pads are quilted for added cushioning and have moisture-wicking fabric to keep your horse cool and comfortable. Velcro straps at the billets and girth loops keep these pads from shifting under the saddle. While schooling dressage saddle pads have a variety of colors, the most common colors while showing are white and black.

Half Pads

Half pads can help with saddle fit issues, heat build-up during riding sessions, and trauma. They are perfect for horses with sensitive backs and great with older horses. Half pads are usually used along with full saddle pads. However, be mindful that adding a half pad can add extra heat and may affect the overall fit and comfort of a saddle.

The Top 10 All-Purpose, Close Contact, Dressage, and Half Pads

Armed with all the knowledge of saddle pads you’ll ever need, it’s time to go shopping. To help you get through all the great options, we’ve selected the top 10 all-purpose, close contact, dressage, and half pads for every horse, every saddle, and every ride.

    Dura-Tech All Purpose Pad

  1. Dura-Tech® All Purpose Pad
  2. This schooling pad is durable, easy-care, functional, and comfortable for your horse. Square cut, this all-purpose English saddle pad has a foam inner padding for cushion while allowing air to circulate, helping your horse stay cooler during exercise. It also comes in many colors, making it both fashionable and functional.

    LeMieux Prosport Close Contact Suede Saddle Pad

  3. LeMieux® Prosport Close Contact Suede Saddle Pad
  4. The LeMieux® Prosport Suede Close Contact Saddle Pad fits a wide range of forward-cut jumping saddles with modern features, offering high wither relief. The luxurious suede top side and new soft suede binding are complemented by the bamboo lining, which absorbs and controls sweat under the saddle and is comfortable and secure. This saddle pad minimizes friction, even on sensitive-skinned horses.

    Dura-Tech Deluxe All Purpose Pad

  5. Dura-Tech® Deluxe All Purpose Pad
  6. This beautifully colored all-purpose saddle pad is designed for ultimate comfort. It also promotes airflow, keeping your horse's back cooler and more comfortable as they sweat. This deluxe saddle pad is popular with a square-cut design, foam padding, and a small, quilted pattern. It’s great for everyday riding and schooling.

    E-Z View Pad with Non-Glare Number Pockets

  7. E-Z View® Pad with Non-Glare Number Pockets
  8. Be best in the show with the E-Z View® Pad with Non-Glare Number Pockets. This hypo-allergenic synthetic white fleece with quilted 100% brushed cotton non-slip bottom is stylish, functional, and comfortable for your horse. The non-glare pockets display your number on each side for the judge to easily see from the center of the ring! It securely holds three or four-digit numbers in plastic hook and loop closure pockets.

    Shires SupaFleece Lined Shaped Pad

  9. Shires SupaFleece Lined Shaped Pad
  10. This saddle pad is fully lined with sheepskin-like SupaFleece for comfort and protection on your horse's back. Machine washable for easy care, this is a great pad for daily use. The rolled edges prevent sores and chaffing, and it is a breathable pad that fits on various horses.

    Dura-Tech Standard Dressage Saddle Pad

  11. Dura-Tech® Standard Dressage Saddle Pad
  12. Perfect when pressing the perfect test, the Dura-Tech® Standard Dressage Saddle Pad is great for everyday riding while keeping your horse comfortable. With a contour wither design to reduce pressure on their sensitive back and soft foam inner padding for cushion, this dressage saddle pad allows plenty of airflow to help keep your horse's back cooler under the saddle. One-inch nylon web girth loops hold your pad in place, keeping it secure, and various colors will keep your horses looking fabulous in the ring.

    LeMieux Prosport Square Suede Dressage Saddle Pad

  13. LeMieux® Prosport Square Suede Dressage Saddle Pad
  14. The LeMieux® Prosport Square Suede Dressage Saddle Pad is gorgeous and extremely functional. It fits many dressage saddles with high wither relief, elasticated D-Ring tabs, and the signature girth protection area. The luxurious suede top is complimented by the ultra-soft bamboo lining that feels like a blend of cashmere and silk. The lining also absorbs sweat with its natural wicking, deodorizing, and anti-microbial properties.

    Dura-Tech Verashim Fleece Lined 6 Pocket Shim Half Pad

  15. Dura-Tech® Verashim Fleece Lined 6 Pocket Shim Half Pad
  16. The Dura-Tech® Verashim Fleece Lined 6 Pocket Shim Half Pad gives a custom saddle fit for even the hardest-to-fit horse. This shimmable half pad also eliminates wither pressure and doesn't restrict shoulder movement. This saddle pad is made from soft, durable, quilted cotton top and fleece with layered foam, wool felt, and crush-proof memory foam. It also has 6 pockets, 3 sets of varying shim thicknesses with each pad (18 shims total), with front, center, and rear shims in each set. It’s also machine washable, making it easy to clean.

    ThinLine Trifecta Half Pad with Sheepskin Rolls

  17. ThinLine Trifecta Half Pad with Sheepskin Rolls
  18. The ThinLine Trifecta Half Pad with Sheepskin Rolls is perfect for added comfort to your horse's sensitive back. The saddle pad’s sleek, cotton base design always keeps the pad in the right place. It’s also designed with a nice wither profile and spine-free channel, and a sheepskin roll adds fashion appeal without excess bulk. It fits nicely under both custom saddles and standard stock saddles.

    Dura-Tech Anti-Slip Support Gel Pad

  19. Dura-Tech® Anti-Slip Support Gel Pad
  20. The Dura-Tech® Anti-Slip Support Gel Pad is the perfect back pain preventative. This gel pad is lightweight, and the ventilated gel pad allows the skin to breathe while 1/4" thick gel absorbs shock. Made with Intelli-Gel® Technology, the gel grip helps prevent saddle slippage. It’s also easy to clean and a great price for any budget.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I choose an English Saddle Pad?

Choosing an English saddle pad depends on what type of saddle and/or discipline you ride. You wouldn’t want a long Dressage pad under a small close-contact saddle: it would look strange, not to mention it wouldn’t stay in place! Choosing a saddle pad also depends on your horse’s needs. A horse who needs extra support will benefit from both a saddle pad and a half pad. It’s also a great idea to buy several. This way, you have pads for schooling, showing, and any other discipline you ride. It also reduces wear and washes if you don’t have to wash your one saddle pad daily!

What size English saddle pad do I need?

The rule of thumb when deciding what English saddle pad you need is that your saddle pad should be 4" longer than your saddle, with about 2" on each side of the saddle. This allows for any minor movement of the saddle pad.

Are thicker pads better?

A thicker saddle bad doesn’t always mean better. Consider the size of your pad, saddle, and horse’s needs when choosing a saddle pad, not just the thickness. Thicker can mean hotter or can be overkill for what you need.

What is a half pad used for?

A half pad absorbs shocks during riding or minimizes the saddle's impact and the rider's pressure. This can support the withers and spine, making it easier for the horse to move around. Half pads are used for many reasons, but the most common is adding extra support under the saddle.

Saddle pads have been around for a long time and are essential for quality time in the saddle. Once you have the research, choosing the right English saddle pad is easy. It will be easy to choose what style you need, but what color? Oh my. With so many choices, you’ll have saddle pads to spare. Happy vbutping!