Why use Saddle Pad Inserts? Which Inserts are Right For Your Horse?

Action Rider Julie Campbell and her horse Kalena riding in a treeless saddle with EquiPedic foam inserts. Happy horse, happy rider.
Action Rider Julie Campbell and her horse Kalena riding in a treeless saddle with EquiPedic foam inserts. Happy horse, happy rider.

The choice of saddles pads is diverse enough to make your head spin. Saddle pad design and function with inserts is a specialty all its own. But it’s not rocket science. Basically, saddle pads with inserts are for when you need extra wither, spine and back protection. Inserts are always recommended with treeless saddles because it gives you extra insurance that the saddle is not going to press on the spine or withers. But they are also used with treed saddles for impact absorption and back support as well. The inserts are placed on either side of the spine, leaving a clear spine channel for its protection.

The foam material used to make the inserts generally falls into two categories – open cell foam and closed cell foam. Open cell foam, like the EquiPedic Conforpedic foam and Viscool foam is softer and squishier. It can be perfect for many situations like

EquiPedic ConforPedic 1" Open Cell Foam Inserts
EquiPedic ConforPedic 1″ Open Cell Foam Inserts

filling in the back, a slight sway back, or an extra buffer from the impact of your weight on your horse while riding long distances. There were many EquiPedic Saddle Pads with 1”Conforpedic Inserts under all types of saddles at the 100-mile Tevis Cup Endurance Ride, for example. These quality open cell foams can help distribute the weight of the rider under the saddle, reduce impact from the rider, while not creating pressure points. It will form somewhat to your horse’s back and movement.

Barefoot Regular Closed Cell Foam Inserts
Barefoot Regular Closed Cell Foam Inserts

However, at times, the 1” EquiPedic foam is too much. It lifts the saddle too far off the back, especially on round horses causing the saddle to be unstable. So, there are other thinner, denser, closed cell foam inserts that can provide excellent back protection and shock absorption like the Barefoot Regular, Barefoot Heavy Duty, and Matrix Ultra Pro inserts. These closed cell inserts are dense enough that you cannot pinch your fingers entirely together. It’s like rubber. These are very good for when the rider weighs 165 lbs and over, long distances, jumping, or whenever you need back protection. It provides a closer contact with your horse under the saddle.

And there are also inserts that combine open cell foam with closed cell foam like the Matrix Ortho Inserts. You get some squish and some firmness in one insert. They are also not as thick as the EquiPedic inserts. They are excellent for impact reduction and can contour to your horse’s back more than just closed cell foam alone. When needed, you can also use two inserts, closed cell and open cell foam together to achieve the same result.

Inserts do not last forever, and need to be replaced depending on how much you ride. Sweat, salt, moisture and heat will help the deterioration process, so it’s best to keep your saddle pads washed and stored in a clean, dry place. It’s much less expensive to replace the inserts than the whole saddle pad. If you ride many miles, you may have to replace the inserts every 1 -2 years.

Finally, saddle pad inserts cannot fix a saddle that does not fit, especially with a treed saddle that is too narrow. Inserts function as added safeguards and protection to your horse’s back. They are a great tool to keep your horse happy and comfortable while he provides you with years of riding enjoyment.

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October Action Rider of the Month – Cassandra Olds

Action Rider Cassandra Olds is such a great treeless saddle success story, we had to share it. Read on.

Cassandra and Tell after a ride in the Black Forrest Shasta and Dr Cooks Bitless Bridle.
Cassandra and Tell after a ride in the Black Forest Shasta and Dr Cooks Bitless Bridle.

“I had always read about horses with behavioral issues that were as a result of poor fitting tack but I just assumed it was an all or nothing deal. It was a good fit or bad fit. I didn’t realize that even though the tack may fit, the horse may still not be comfortable. This is what my journey with Tell has taught me… Comfort matters!

“Tell is an 11-year-old quarter horse cross. When I took him on I noticed that he bucked furiously for the first five or so minutes when lunged with a saddle. He also flat out refused to go up any hill when hacking out, instead he would slowly wind his way up. It was put down to being lazy or having too much energy depending on the day.

“He is the gentlest creature on the ground with excellent manners so it didn’t add up. I had a hunch that he wasn’t comfortable with the saddle he came with so I did a lot of research on saddle options, treeless saddles specifically and decided to give it a go. At the same time I switched out his snaffle bit for a bitless bridle, having found that he pulled against the bit relentlessly.

“Since then we have done a four-hour mountain trail ride very comfortably as well as a number of shorter rides and I feel happier knowing that he is comfortable again. From a training perspective, it has been amazing to see how quickly he is learning now that we can focus on the lesson.

“Perhaps the most exciting moment for me was when coming back from a short ride in the arena; we approached a road going up a steep hill beside the barn. Normally we just walk straight to the barn, but on this particular day, Tell seemed to want to go up the hill (there are two horses at the top which he wanted to introduce himself to I guess). Knowing our past experiences with hills I decided to see what he would do if he had the choice, go to the barn or carry me up steep hill with him, which would he pick? Much to my surprise, he energetically walked up the hill! Changing the bridle has also made a world of difference, almost immediately he became very responsive to the lightest aids and no more pulling! Needless to say I am looking forward to find out what else he can do!”