Wool Flocking Versus Foam In Saddles

 

  • Do you know what’s under your butt in the saddle? Most English saddles, and some Western saddles, are stuffed with either foam or wool. What are the differences? The pros and cons of each? Lots to learn about here.

 

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The pros of wool flocked saddles

 

  • Saddles stuffed with wool have an absolute custom fit. Wool is a natural material and has excellent wicking and breathability. For your horse, this means his back can stay cooler.

 

  • Wool is renewable, better for the environment, and just plain soft. It will conform to your horse’s back, and can be easily fluffed or un-fluffed to get the perfect fit. Every horse on the planet is constantly changing his shape. Even subtle changes of weight, muscle growth or decline, and changes in overall health can change how a saddle fits. Having an easily customizable saddle is ideal, so that your horse maintains the best fit possible.

 

  • One of the advantages of using wool in a saddle is the turnaround time. Most saddle fitters can work on the flocking at your barn, which means no more expensive trips sending your saddle back to the manufacturer.

 

saddle flocking tools on a workbench

This is a pile of wool on the right, getting ready to be stuffed into a saddle.

 

The cons of a wool flocked saddle.

 

  • These saddles require maintenance! For most horses, once or twice a year is a good place to start. This may seem like a big pain in the butt. I think riding a horse that doesn’t have a properly fitted saddle is worse.

 

  • Wool, in some cases, can be heavier than foam. Is this a real con? Perhaps, it’s up to you to decide. Some riders feel that the wool flocking also puts you a bit further from your horse. Which may, or may not be, a good thing.

 

  • Wool won’t last forever. You will likely need to do a full wool replacement at some point, maybe even every few years.

 

  • You also want to keep a wool flocked saddle for one horse, and one horse only. Sharing a saddle with this structure means that other horses are not having a custom fit, and their bodies can change the wool arrangement for the horse that it was designed for.

 

  • Wool flocking may also absorb sweat and moisture over time. Wool that has soaked up moisture can easily be replaced. You can delay this replacement with absorbent saddle pads, like sheepskin. Also, find saddle storage in clean and dry places. No musty and damp tack rooms, please.

 

The pros of a foam stuffed saddle.

 

  • These saddles, filled with foam in the panels, may be lighter and less bulky than a saddle filled with wool. Some riders think this configuration of foam panels gets you closer to your horse as well.

 

  • You can sometimes share this style of saddle between horses. Custom saddle pads and/or shims are needed to best accommodate different back structures and muscles. Or fat!

 

  • With wide horses, or the horse with a flatter wither or even mutton withers, this style of saddle won’t be as propped up and high as wool flocking in the same saddle. This may provide a better fit!

 

  • You may also save in the money department, as these saddles are typically more affordable.

 

horse wearing an english saddle view from behind

Most saddle manufacturers are clear about the saddle panel contents.

 

The cons of foam panels in a saddle.

 

  • You will probably need custom pads, sometimes with shims, for proper fit on a daily basis.

 

  • Because foam doesn’t conform, a horse with asymmetry will have issues with a foam saddle unless you remedy that with shims and saddle pads. And BTW, all horses are asymmetrical to some extent.

 

  • Changing foam inserts is infinitely more expensive than changing a flocked saddle. Most need to be sent to the manufacturer or specialty shop for modification, there’s no doing this at your barn.

 

  • The actual foam may break down and get super hard. This is typical for much older saddles with early versions of foam in the panels. Not only ouch, but also big bucks to fix.

 

Other options for saddle panel “guts”

 

  • Faux wool can be used for some saddles. This faux wool might also be longer lasting than traditional wool. The durability and quality of these synthetic saddle ingredients will directly impact the longevity and comfort of the saddle.

 

  • Some saddles feature a smaller foam core with a wool covering. This may give you the best of both worlds!

 

  • There are also some saddles with an air panel construction. Obviously, these are quite light! However, air changes with temperature and will expand and contract, changing how you sit in the saddle. They can also leak over time, rendering the air panel useless. There’s also the issue that as you shift your weight around in this type of saddle, the air is shifted around as well, creating unevenness under your butt and across your horse.

 

close view of stirrup on brown leather english saddle

Don’t forget about how the saddle fits YOU!

 

Know when your saddle needs adjusting.

 

  • It’s always a good idea to have a saddle fitter check on your saddle every six to 12 months. And yes, an educated and experienced saddle fitter can help you if you have a foam-filled saddle. You can get proper shimming and overall fit checked. It’s not just about what’s inside the panels, it’s about the gullet width, too.

 

  • I personally use an independent saddle fitter for a few reasons. I really like her! And, there’s no pressure from her to try and sell me another saddle from a specific brand. I’ve also learned from her about how to do a cursory check of saddle fit. This lets me know when it’s time to have her come and visit before my horse gets snarky about getting dressed.

 

  • Most horses will tell you that they are uncomfortable. You just have to figure it out. And that means figuring out if his actions and reactions are related to saddle fit, your riding, lameness, disease, something mental going on with him, or something else.

 

 

saddle fitter examining a horse

Saddle fitting is fast and easy. Usually!

 

Signs your horse is uncomfortable and saddle fit might be the cause:

 

  • Objecting to being tacked up and girthed. Horses know what’s coming, and if they don’t like the saddle, they will try to tell you.

 

  • Acting cold backed. Do you have that “I’m about to be bucked off” feeling when you first get on? Like he’s hunched up? Classic signs of a cold back.

 

  • No willingness to go forward under saddle. This may be a slowness, ignoring of your aids, or even hesitation to make transitions.

 

  • Snarky behavior under saddle. Ears pinned, kicking out, bucking, etc. are all snarky reactions from horses.

 

  • Some lamenesses are highlighted by poor saddle fit. Some are directly caused by saddle fit. It never hurts to have your Vet examine your horse for lameness while he’s naked and while he’s wearing a saddle.

 

  • If your horse has saddle sores, this is usually related to poor saddle fit. Most saddle sores and rubs happen when things are too tight. Add some friction from movement and some sweat, and tah-dah, saddle sore. Please have your saddle fit checked instead of adding more pads. That may be the solution, but should only be explored after the expensive leather thing has an inspection and fit.

 

  • And in case you were wondering, there are some western saddle that have some types of flocking or foam! I tend to see them more in the western dressage landscape, it may not be long until it spreads to other disciplines.

 

 

What’s under your butt? And don’t forget – the saddle also has to fit YOU! For more on that topic, this article has you covered.

 

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