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
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.
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.