The Problem With Half Pads
Over the last several years, especially in the hunter/jumper world, half pads have become all the rage. They claim to absorb shock, distribute weight, and overall protect your horse’s back.
Foam, notably memory foam, and gel both do not allow an efficient escape of heat and moisture. However, these are two of the most commonly used materials in half pads. Sheepskin allows for both of these things readily, but when isolated away from the skin, such as on top of a baby pad, it’s benefits are compromised as it cannot wick moisture, and cannot loft and fluff as easily, creating essentially a layer of insulation, rather than a natural airflow structure.
In addition, these materials do not pack much “bang for their buck”. Both memory foam and gel take up a great deal of space, and offer little shock-absorbent return. Gel simply sends shock back up into the rider, rather than dispersing it, and memory foam has limited dispersement. Once memory foam has compressed, sometimes within 2-3 minutes on hot days, any shock absorption it could offer is completely lost.
Finally, these bulky pads create a “line” beneath the saddle that can cause discomfort for the horse, and confusion in lines of communication. The upper leg will feel dramatically different from the lower leg, and the tightness of the saddle will compress the edges of the pad into the horse’s back. The bulk beneath the saddle creates a greater distance between the rider’s seat and the horse’s back, making it more difficult for the rider to communicate with the horse quietly and with subtle seat cues. Throwing these out the window forces a rider to rely on larger seat cues, which can cause even more back soreness in the long run.
In conclusion, the vast majority of half pads on the market work against horse and rider, rather than with them. Their bulky profiles, hot materials, and lack of shock dissipation mean they are used more for fashion than function. If your saddle fits well, it should be just fine sitting against a thin baby pad on your horse’s back, or on a full sheepskin pad if you prefer greater comfort and heat dispersal.