Getting to the bottom of it: saddle pads and blankets
January 7, 2013
When was the last time you really looked at what was underneath your saddle? Have you considered upgrading to a custom-made saddle blanket? Or have you always wanted to try one of those gel pads you've heard so much about? When you start looking at all of the saddle pad and blanket options the equine industry has available to you, it would be hard not to find yourself a little overwhelmed. Saddle pads and blankets are available in an array and combination of fabrics, including wool, fleece, gel and synthetic, with many customizable options, such as fleece lining, wither notching, or wear leathers. So, where should you begin?
In the rodeo world, horses are athletes and require regular exercise and feeding programs that will support their active lifestyle. A rodeo horse's tack also needs to support this fast-paced lifestyle and be able to handle the use and abuse that goes along with it. On top of that, the best tack should also be able to curb common problems that rodeo horses deal with on a routine basis.
Miss Rodeo Wyoming Kimberly Kuhn said, "I love the impact gels. I ride them when I rope and when I run barrels. I love the way they fit and how they take out some of the shock on my horse's back. I can't wait to get another one!" Impact Gel saddle pads incorporate an inner layer of gel surrounded by felt rather than neoprene which allows the material to breathe and absorb sweat. The gel in these pads is built to absorb impact and shock as well as improve saddle fit and reduce slipping – all excellent, proactive qualities a saddle pad fit for rodeo athletes should possess.
"I first started using an Impact Gel pad on my break away horse because he would get sore in the back, and he really responded well to it. I also travel a lot and would start throwing the pad on a lot of different horses and noticed it would make my saddle fit better. The pads don't rub like neoprene and let the horse sweat evenly under the saddle. Now I just use a one-inch Impact Gel pad when I run barrels, and a one-and-one-half- to two-inch pad when I rope," said Kuhn. Impact Gel saddle pads are available at distributors nationwide and online and range in price from $150 to $265.
“I first started using an Impact Gel pad on my break-away horse because he would get sore in the back, and he really responded well to it. I also travel a lot and would start throwing the pad on a lot of different horses and noticed it would make my saddle fit better. The pads don’t rub like neoprene and let the horse sweat evenly under the saddle. Now I just use a one-inch Impact Gel pad when I run barrels, and a one-and-one-half- to two-inch pad when I rope.”
Miss Rodeo Wyoming Kimberly Kuhn
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The weekend riding horse may not be as high-maintenance as the rodeo horse, and therefore does not always require the most resilient tack. A simple, synthetic-blend saddle blanket may suffice for the backyard horse who gives rides to children, or could be supplemented on top of an older saddle blanket or pad as a showy addition. This type of blanket is so popular, that the Navajo Acrylic Saddle Blanket is one of the top sellers at State Line Tack, starting at $6.99.
Not all horse owners are interested in synthetic fabrics; some prefer natural fibers like wool. Wool saddle blankets and pads are popular due to the fiber's natural ability to wick moisture, and can be found in a variety of forms. One well-liked wool form is felt which can be manufactured as saddle pads. Cactus Saddlery and Equibrand are both well-known companies that produce American-made, felt saddle pads used and endorsed by organizations such as the American Cowboy Team Roping Association and the National Reined Cow Horse Association. This type of saddle pad is commonly available at tack shops and easily found online, ranging in price from $100 to $300.
More traditionally, wool is spun into yarn and weaved to produce saddle blankets. Wool saddle blankets are commonly used in a variety of equestrian disciplines and can be fashioned from a variety of wool types. T3 Weavers, a family-owned business located in Elbert, CO, weaves all of their saddle blankets by hand with alpaca wool.
"What makes our saddle blankets different is the weave. The tighter the weave the more structural the saddle blanket is. Machine weaving is not as compressed as compared to hand-woven which makes a tighter, more structural weave. We use sheep's wool for the warp (structure you weave on) because it won't break down with horse sweat, and alpaca wool for the weft (the yarn you weave with) because it is so much stronger and hypo-allergenic," said Marianne Truitt of T3 Weavers. Many satisfied T3 Weavers customers have commented on the beautiful designs, softness of the fiber, and weight of their blankets, all of which can be attributed to the compact weave and quality materials the Truitt family uses when building saddle blankets. T3 Weavers saddle blankets can be ordered and purchased online (www.t3weavers.com). Prices vary from $450 to $950 depending upon color and pattern.
Wool saddle blankets have been tested by working cowboys around the country for hundreds of years; and before them, wool was used as a staple fiber in clothing throughout the world due to its absorbent ability, thermal insulation, durability, and renewability. It is no wonder that wool is still one of the top materials used in saddle pads and blankets today. Shawn Smith, a working cowboy on the Red Bluff Ranch in Thermopolis, WY, expressed his saddle blanket preference by stating, "I prefer a thick wool blanket. I get mine from Wyoming Wool Works. I like their blankets because I put a lot of miles on my horses and they keep them from getting saddle sores." Latch-woven saddle blankets from Wyoming Wool Works can be purchased online (www.wyowoolworks.com) and range in price from $175 to $200.
So, what's the bottom line? Now that you know what material and style of saddle blanket or pad you want, how much is it going to cost you? In today's stressed economy, everyone is paying more attention to where their money goes and equestrian enthusiasts are no different. Many people will tell you that you get what you pay for, and more often than not, this proverb is true. Custom-made, hand-craftsmanship is often pricey, but is steeped in Western traditions and artistry that will not only treat your horse well, but will last a lifetime. On the other hand, Americans have mastered the assembly line and manufacturers can now offer today's equine consumer affordable, attractive products. Don't forget that science is always bringing us the latest and greatest products in every market, including the equine industry, which can have a profound effect on the health of our animals. So ask yourself, what do you want to pay for?