Last Updated on February 28, 2023
Barrel racing is a highly physical sport, and your horse deserves the very best tack you can afford! Choosing the best saddle pad for barrel racing will help to ensure your horse is comfortable and able to perform to the very best of its ability.
The saddle pad market is heavily saturated with products of varying quality and price. Although that means numerous options for you to choose from, it can be stressful as a consumer if you are trying to find the best saddle pad for barrel racing for your horse.
Every equestrian 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 barrel racing saddle blankets for you to choose from!
What Tack Do You Need for Barrel Racing?
Barrel racing is a rodeo event where riders execute a cloverleaf pattern around barrels in the fastest possible time, scoring points for accuracy. Originally this event was only found at Western competitions. However, the sport has grown so much in popularity that there are now 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 prize. Therefore, barrel racing equipment and saddle pads are highly specific to enable the horse to perform at the very best of its ability.
Even with many variations, most barrel racing saddle pads will share common features designed to fit the saddle and horse. Riders typically ride on barrel saddles, which differ greatly 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!
Barrel racing saddles tend to be smaller in design than standard saddles, and any excess skirting or leather is removed to decrease total weight and allow more movement under the saddle. Specialist trees allow maximum shoulder movement and rotation, enabling the horse to make quick, nimble turns. However, a specialist barrel racing saddle requires a high-performance saddle pad to match the demands of the horse and rider.
How to Choose The Best Saddle Pad for Barrel Racing
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. A custom-fitted saddle can be greatly thrown off and made painfully if paired with a bulky or badly-designed saddle pad.
Although many English saddles only utilize pads to protect the leather on the saddle, a western saddle (regardless of how perfect the fit is) 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 reduce direct friction and pressure from the saddle onto the horse, helping to protect the muscles underneath. Saddle pads act as shock absorbers, which is important for both the horse’s thoracic vertebrae and the rider’s comfort.
In some situations, saddle pads can be used to correct poor 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 Saddle Pads Explained
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 leather, which can be synthetic or actual leather. Although this is a personal preference, wearing leather protects 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.
Saddle pad materials
The material used for your saddle pad is also a matter of preference, and different materials have varying advantages and disadvantages. Most saddle 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 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 now developing traditional saddle pads for barrel racing that feature specialty underside materials. This gives you the appearance of a traditional blanket, whilst the horse enjoys the comfort of modern-day technology. One of these is the “Tacky-Tack” material, designed for riders who have trouble with saddle pad movement or use excessive oils and conditioners on their horses.
One key feature to look out for is moisture-wicking or cooling technology to prevent heat build-up and friction on the horse’s spine, which can greatly help a horse that is prone to getting hot and sweaty.
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.
As barrel racing is a high-impact sport that involves fast, tight turns, shock absorption is essential to protect the horse’s back. Watch any barrel rider in action and you will quickly understand why a little bit of padding goes a long way!
Bearing all this in mind, we’ve picked out the very best saddle pad for barrel racing options for you to choose from. Let’s take a look!
Best Saddle Pad for Barrel Racing – The Top 6 Revealed!
All the saddle pads on our list today are made for high-performance barrel runs, but this does not mean they are exclusively for speed events. Many trail riders love the minimal-material design for close-contact riding or increased airflow and wither relief for long miles logged on the trails. So, as long as the pad accommodates your saddle, these pads can be used in a variety of disciplines or even just for pleasure riding
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 saddle pads are some of the most reputable and high-quality pads on the market for western saddles. This pad is a square skirt designed to fit many saddle shapes and features wear leather and 100% virgin wool felt. This is excellent for moisture-wicking and cleaning. It is handmade in the US and a full 1” thick for superior protection for your horse’s back.
- 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 pad yet! They come in a variety of cool designs and color options, with the charcoal and turquoise barrel saddle pad a very popular choice amongst riders.
This contoured saddle pad features 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 is 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 leather 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 product is the best saddle pad for heavy riders, as it utilizes 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 withered 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 saddle pads 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., and BOT technology which reflects your horse’s own natural body heat for a soothing infrared thermal warmth.
Summary – Best Saddle Pad For Barrel Racing
It is clear to see that when choosing the best saddle pad for barrel racing, there are a lot of options available! Whether you’re looking for an ergonomic modern design or a traditional-look saddle pad, all of our pads feature technology that will help keep your horse comfortable in the most intense of competitions. When selecting a saddle pad, make sure it will fit both your horse and your saddle, and look for one with suitable padding to ease the pressure on your horse’s back.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the best saddle pad for barrel racing! Do you have a favorite saddle pad for barrel racing that you have been using for years? Or maybe you’re struggling to decide what type of saddle pad would be best for your horse. Leave a comment below and we will get back to you!
What makes a good saddle pad?
Many different types of pads 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.
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.
Saddle pads can be made from a variety of materials. Padding and shock absorption are provided using 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 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. A barrel pad gives the horse more protection than a traditional saddle pad, without restricting the movement of the horse. As they are smaller in size, they won’t cause your horse to overheat that quickly. They are made of 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?
For barrel racing, it is best to use a saddle pad that is about 3/4 inch thick. The 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.
Equestrian, Marine Corps vet, and Morgan horse enthusiast.