Saddle pad placement guide


Your saddle pad placement should allow the saddle pad to fit up and away from your horse’s spine and withers. All the time. With all types of saddles and all types of saddle pads. Thick or thin. This is why I stress CONTOURED SADDLE PADS – give those withers some extra room to move.


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Let’s experiment with a saddle pad


  • Go along with me on this, if only for a second. Put the spine of a saddle pad over your outstretched leg and tug the saddle pad down on each side of your leg.  This mimics the saddle pad laying on your horse’s spine and wither directly.


  • Now try and bend your knee and move it up a bit. This mimics your horse’s spine trying to lift as you ask him to move forward. Your knee will have a lot of resistance, and won’t be able to bend so far.


saddle pad on leg

In this experiment, your leg and knee become your horse’s spine and withers.


  • Now keep the spine of the saddle pad an inch above of your knee. Now you have tons of room to bend your knee, just as your horse’s spine and withers now have somewhere to go as you start to ride.


Horses need to lift their back while being ridden


  • The back and withers lift so that the hind legs can come under his body and do their job. This is true for polo ponies, dressage horses, western pleasure horses, you name it.  Each horse discipline involves the hind legs and haunches powering under the lifted back.


  • Lifting the back creates a round, strong top line on your horse and allows room for movement under the belly.  This lifted back also smoothes out gaits and makes for maximum comfort under the saddle.


  • Saddle pads that rest directly on your horse’s spine and withers will tug downwards, putting pressure on those bones and structures.  This is uncomfortable and may resemble wearing skivvies that are too small and being asked to exhale deeply and move.  Your horse must be able to lift into an open space, not a saddle pad squishing him down.  


  • Don’t forget to use clean, hair-free saddle pads.  Nothing says “saddle sore” quite like gritty tack rubbing your horse. 


Give the withers and spine plenty of room


This is not ideal: 

saddle pads resting on horse withers


This is much better for saddle pad placement:


saddle pads pulled up in gullet



Make sure the saddle fits properly, too.


  • It doesn’t matter much about the saddle pad if the saddle doesn’t fit your horse.  A master saddle fitter is the best resource to verify that your horse’s shape matches that of his saddle.  Saddle fitters will also adjust flocking and tree width if the saddle is designed to allow that. 


  • You may also want to switch to a thinner pad if possible. Resist the urge to add more saddle pads if you are unsure about saddle fit.  This is like adding more socks to a shoe that is too tight!


  • Look for saddle pads that have a contoured top, these fit nicely into your saddle’s gullet. Some saddle pads even have cutouts for the wither area.  Both English and Western saddle pads can come with contoured toplines.  


contoured saddle pad

Saddle pads that mimic the shape of withers are the most comfortable for your horse!


  • You may also find that your horse starts his exercise looking perfect, but when you get back to the barn, the saddle pad has had a party under the saddle and probably invited some friends. It’s a hot mess under there of wrinkles and sliding fabric.  This is also a sign your saddle and pad combo needs some adjustment – most likely the saddle.


For more about saddle fit – this article has you covered!



Saddle fit basics



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