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[dropcap]N[/dropcap]othing can compete with a balanced and well-fitting saddle that provides comfort and freedom of movement for your horse. However, it can be tricky to find a perfectly fitting saddle on a budget or for a horse with an unconventional back. A half pad can correct fit or provide for a suitable compromise, and there are several options of pads on the market today. A common mistake is adding a saddle pad because of the perception that they provide extra padding and therefore extra comfort. However, adding extra padding to an already well-fitting saddle can actually make the horse more uncomfortable because the pad tightens the fit.

There’s a time and place for corrective saddle pads and we investigate those further in this article.

When to use a half pad

A saddle lifting behind

Half pads should be used as a temporary solution to resolve fitting or balance problems with a saddle. There are several types of half pads on the market that serve very specific purposes. Most commonly, half pads are used under the following circumstances:

  • Limited budget for a correctly fitting saddle
  • Young horse changing shape regularly
  • Rehabilitating a horse who has lost condition
  • Skew horse
  • Sensitive back
  • Lack of clearance
  • One saddle for multiple horses
  • Shifting or bouncing saddle
  • Reduced pressure from a heavy or novice rider


Sheepskin half pads are widely available on the market and popularly used by riders. Sheepskin pads have been used for many years and have since been developed to optimise comfort for the horse. These kinds of pads can be used to cushion the horse’s back, protect against bruising or saddle sores, fill space on a horse lacking topline or on a saddle that is too wide, as well as absorb the pressures and shock from a heavy or novice rider. Often, a saddle is the correct shape for a horse but he needs to fill out in order for the saddle to have enough clearance off the spine, and in these cases, a sheepskin pad is a good compromise.

Sheepskin half pads have become more breathable so that the back doesn’t overheat easily. These pads are also manufactured without sheepskin along the spinal section so that the area does not feel tight or uncomfortable for the horse.

Certain brands design the sheepskin pads to be more or less built up in an area, such as higher in the wither to fix a saddle that tips forward.

Many riders add a sheepskin pad for the aesthetic appeal or because they feel they are adding cushioning, but unless essential to fit, they shouldn’t be used. Always consult your qualified saddle fitter before using a sheepskin half pad.

Memory foam

Memory foam pads have been trending recently as they optimise saddle fit, especially on a skew horse. Essentially, the foam fills or compresses according to the gaps between the saddle and the horse’s back, creating a more balanced fit. They are slim in design and don’t take up the same space under the gullet as a sheepskin pad would. Memory foam pads stabilise the saddle and provide some shock absorption for the horse’s back. Modern pads are breathable and moisture absorbent so that the back stays relatively cool during work.

Gel pads

Gel pads are very thin and lightweight, and are designed to stabilise the saddle and add minimal rise to the saddle. Gel pads are great for saddles that have a tendency to slip. Certain brands manufacture gel pads to be raised more in the front or the back to correct slight saddle-fitting problems. The gel material is flexible, which helps it to lie according to your horse’s anatomical shape. Gel pads often have perforated holes, which optimise breathability and grip.

The full article appears in the February issue of HQ (130) > Shop now