The saddle pad market is heavily saturated. Although that means unlimited options and price points for your horse, it can be stressful as a consumer. Each discipline has key points and aspects that demand certain styles of saddle pads, helping narrow down your search for perfection. Luckily we’ve compiled some of the best saddle pads for barrel racing!
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What is barrel racing? Barrel racing is a rodeo event where riders execute a cloverleaf pattern around barrels for time. However, the sport has grown so much in popularity there are now strictly barrel exhibitions held in cities all over the country each week!
Because barrel racing is a timed event, speed, agility, and freedom of movement are everything. A half-second can be the difference between going home empty-handed or receiving a check and buckle. Therefore, barrel racing equipment and saddle pads are highly specific. Even with many variations, most barrel racing-specific pads will share common features to help horses perform their best. Riders are usually in barrel saddles, which greatly differ from other types of western saddles. Barrel saddles tend to have the lightest tree materials on the market, and the finished product with stirrups is typically under 26 pounds in weight! They offer smaller designs without excess skirting or leather to decrease total weight and allow more movement under the saddle. Many are on trees to allow maximum shoulder movement and rotation. However, these specialty saddles still need a high-performance pad to match the demands of the horse and rider.
Saddle Pad Purpose
Saddle pads are used under saddles for several biomechanical reasons. A proper saddle pad will not only optimize performance but keep your horse as comfortable as possible. A significant part of saddle fitting includes the saddle pad used. In fact, a custom-fitted saddle can be greatly thrown off and made painful if paired with a bulky incorrect pad.
Although many English saddles only utilize pads to protect the leather on the saddle, a western saddle (regardless of how perfect the fit) requires a saddle pad. This is not to be mistaken with a saddle blanket, which is typically very thin wool or an acrylic blanket used over a pad. Saddle pads provide cushioning, first and foremost. They also help keep your saddle in pristine condition by protecting the flocking on the underside and leather from your horse’s sweat. Sweat can damage and stain the flocking and leather of a saddle in just a few rides.
Saddle pads also help evenly distribute pressure from the rider or the saddle. This will also reduce direct friction from the saddle onto the horse. Saddle pads act as shock absorbers, which is important for both the horse’s thoracic vertebrae and rider comfort. Other purposes of saddle pads can be to correct saddle fit or deficiencies. Shimmable pads can help correct or balance out areas of incorrect saddle fit, such as bridging or collapsing on the withers from excessive width. Some unconditioned or underdeveloped horses (under age 5) may also not “fill out” a saddle yet, and pads are an economical solution until a horse has reached its full size.
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Types of Pads
Saddle pads come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They not only need to be an appropriate fit for your horse but also your saddle. Even though a horse’s back may fit a 28” length saddle pad very nicely, a saddle with longer skirt leather may require a 30” or even 32” pad to accommodate the saddle. Most saddles come with wear leathers, which can be synthetic or actual leather. Although this is a personal preference, wear leathers protect the pad from wear and tear in the high-friction area from riding and the cinching process. They can ultimately prolong the lifespan of your saddle pad.
Material is also a matter of preference. Most pads use a wool/felt combination, but the addition of high-performance sport foams has grown in popularity over the years. Although many opt for traditional high-quality felt pads with no frills, others choose to purchase pads like the T3 Matrix series (listed below) for maximum shock absorption and biomechanical-based technology. In any scenario, even a high-end saddle can cause discomfort or damage without a quality saddle pad.
Many companies are also coming out with traditional pads that feature specialty underside materials. The “Tacky-Tack” material was designed for riders who have trouble with saddle pad movement or use excessive oils and conditioners on their horses. Many companies are utilizing moisture-wicking or cooling technology to prevent heat build-up and friction on the horse’s spine. On the contrary, companies such as Back On Track release limited edition saddle pads featuring ceramic powder infused materials to help warm a “cold-backed” horse and increase circulation for comfort and increased blood flow. Regardless of your specific needs, you are sure to find a perfect saddle pad for barrel racing below:
Top Picks For Best Barrel Racing Saddle Pads
Keep in mind, these pads are all made for high-performance barrel runs. That does not mean they are exclusive for speed events. Many trail riders love the minimal-material design for close-contact riding or increased airflow and wither relief for miles logged on the trails. So long as the pad accommodates your saddle, these pads can be used in a variety of disciplines or even just for pleasure.
Toklat’s T3 Matrix line features some of the highest quality saddle pads on the market, for both English and western disciplines. This pad is packed with scientifically backed technology, providing up to 90% shock/energy absorption from the rider to the horse. This model is a shimmable design and can help perfect saddle fit or compensate for any asymmetries. It can also be used to correct bridging or build up the front or rear. It is compression-resistant and features dropped hardy wear leathers. The pad uses an orthopedic-grade felt lining for unbeatable impact protection.
- Superior technology and impact protection
- Contoured fit
- Removable inserts
- Product guarantee
5 Star makes some of the most reputable and high-quality pads on the market for western saddles. This pad is a square skirt design to fit many saddle shapes and features wear leathers and 100% virgin wool felt. This is excellent for moisture-wicking and cleaning. It’s handmade in the US and a full 1” thick.
- Easy to clean
- High-quality materials
- Lack of color selection
Although one of the more economical pads on our list, the Synergy collection by Weaver is possibly their best pads yet! They come in a variety of cool designs and color options, and feature EVA sport foam for maximum breathability and impact-absorption. It has an anatomical contour and the top is made of 100% New Zealand wool, with an orthopedic felt bottom. The sizing is made specifically for short-t barrel saddles.
- Great color selection
- EVA sport foam
- Moderately priced
- Steep contour not great for all horses
- Short for some saddle designs
Another great product by 5 Star Equine! This barrel pad features a split flex fit wither, perfect for prominent withers or a horse needing extra relief in this area. It’s 7/8 thick and features heavy-duty wear leathers and a contoured design for maximum wither relief. It comes in multiple thicknesses, and the flex fit will move with your horse during your runs.
- Several variations
- Contour flex fit
- Wither Relief
- Only one color
- Unnecessary for mutton withers
Professional’s Choice has quality products for reasonable prices in almost every discipline. This Barrel Elite pad uses felt on top of closed-cell foam rubber, designed to absorb shock without absorbing sweat. It features the signature SMx Air Rides material and has wither and latigo cutouts. There are wear leathers and a leather reinforcement along with the contoured spine, all made in the US.
- Dependable quality
- Contour with reinforcements
- Moderately priced
- Can get warm on the underside
Diamond Wool makes exception pad at even more exceptional prices. This Tough Barrel pad uses their signature “Ranch Tough” 1″ wool felt. The rounded design fits petite and rounded western saddle skirts seen in the barrel arena. It has a contoured spine with a wither relief notch, and measures 30″x30″.
- High quality
- Tough fabric
- Less shock absorption than competitor pads
Honorable Mention: Back on Track Therapeutic Horse Western Pad Liner
Although not an actual saddle “pad”, we couldn’t mention the Back On Track ceramic technology without featuring the product. It is for use under your normal saddle pad to help cold-backed or older horses warm-up and loosen their muscles. It uses polypropylene and Welltex ceramic powder fabrics. BOT technology reflects your horse’s own natural body heat for a soothing infrared thermal warmth.
What makes a good saddle pad?
There are many different types of pads that are suitable for different horses. The type of pad you need will depend on your horse’s activity, conformation and weight. For instance, a horse with a high-riding action will be better suited to a softer pad and a horse that has a long back, heavy withers and a low center of gravity will be best suited to a pad with more gel foam. Indeed, a horse that’s ridden on a properly fitted saddle pad has less chance of injury and discomfort than a horse that’s ridden on an improperly fitted saddle pad.
A saddle pad can be made of a variety of materials. It’s usually made of closed-cell foam or gel foam, but other materials such as wool, leather, or even cotton can be used. A closed-cell foam or gel saddle pad provides the best protection for your horse’s back. Foam saddle pads also help to absorb sweat and maintain a more comfortable ride. Foam saddle pads also help to reduce the shock to the horse’s back.
What size saddle pad should I buy?
Saddle pads are designed to protect horses from friction and irritation caused by contact with the saddle. There are many different sizes of saddle pads available, but you should choose one that is appropriate for the size of the saddle you use. For example, if you use a western saddle, you should choose a saddle pad that is about 3 inches longer than the length of your western saddle. A pad that is too small won’t provide sufficient protection for your horse’s back which can result in blistering and chafing. A pad that is too large will increase the weight on the horse’s back and can cause discomfort and obstruct the motion. The width of a saddle pad should be wider than the width of the saddle to prevent rubbing against the horse’s sides. A properly fitted saddle pad should cover the entire back under the saddle.
What is a barrel pad?
Barrel saddle pads are used for the smaller, round skirt barrel racing saddles and some trail saddles. The barrel pad gives the rider a bit more coverage than a traditional saddle pad. It is a nice option for smaller horses or horses that may not be used to a traditional saddle. As they are smaller in size, they won’t cause your horse to overheat that quickly. They are made of a water repellent material and can be made of synthetic or natural fiber. They can be purchased in various sizes and shapes to fit most saddles.
How thick should a barrel racing saddle pad be?
It is best to use a saddle pad that is about 3/4 inch thick. A saddle pad should fit snugly over the horse’s back without causing the horse discomfort or injury. The width of the pad should be based on the horse’s withers and not the horse’s girth. A saddle pad should be thick enough to absorb moisture and prevent the saddle from riding up.
Saddle pads come in a variety of materials. They can be made of nylon, polyester, rubber, leather, and cotton. Some are treated with waterproofing, while others are treated with waterproofing and anti-microbial protection.