Do you use a different one for summer vs. winter? I'm on a tack binge right now. I went to the tack shop to look for slobber straps and got sidetracked into the saddle pad department and was overwhelmed by all the options.
I have been riding in a "new breed" open weave neoprene grippy saddle pad. I like the level of cushioning without being too thick, and the fact that it doesn't slide at all. I do wonder if it's too heavy or if one that absorbed sweat would be better. But, I'm not unhappy with it and it was cheap, and super easy to clean (hose off, air dries in minutes) so I'll probably stick with it. I am curious as to what everyone else uses though.
I like the Professional's Choice SMx Air Ride pads. I had a horse who was very thin-skinned, and got saddle pad sores from every pad I tried except this type. Now I use them on all my horses. I go on trail rides that are usually from 3-6 hours, and have never had any sores or slipping or sore backs, either. The last one I bought this spring was $150, but I think it was worth it.
contour shaped (raised up to follow the withers) felt pads. Or loose weave wool pads.
My favorite is the Wyatt Ranch pad... My version was only $160... It is 2 pieces, the bottom is felt, shaped, and has a line of velcro down the center. The upper pad is wool felt, with lots of leather and decorations, and is contoured too. It has the opposing velcro down the center. This lets me take the bottom section off to wash it, without ruining the upper pad.
Ditto on the SMX Air Rides - my horses back stays nice and cool. A nice felt pad is great too, nice wicking abilities. Careful with the "tacky tack" pads on long rides... would you want to run around in tacky tack underpants? Uuugh.....
It's kind of funny at my barn right now. As summer progresses everyone is gradually switching from heavy felt or foam western pads to lightweight woven saddle blankets. Most of us ride wide little quarter horse types. As the horses get more fit, one rider after another starts bitching that her saddle is rolling sideways off the horse. We all laugh, tell her to get a thinner saddle pad, and problem is cured.
I have been using a Tacky Too, neoprene waffle weave in cool weather. I just switched to a combo of a Dixie Midnight knockoff with a 5 Star wool pad. The DM so far hasn't irritated his back, it lets sweat drip off. That wool pad would weigh 20 lbs more if it were fill with wet sweat.
There is no snooze button on a cat that wants breakfast.
Although I am a fan of wool fleece, I recently picked up a Suparcor endurance pad and am impressed. It is not very thick, aprox 1/2"-3/4" thick, it stays cool and offers great protection. It does not get heavier when wet and is easy to clean, just hose or wipe off.
Because of the shape of my horses back, I have to use a contour pad. But I oh so wish that they made mayatex blankets with a contour top. It doesnt matter how much I pull the blanket up into the gullet, it always manages to slide down and get tight across her withers
I use a Reinsman tacky pad that has cloth on top. It is contured.
I have also used just the plain tacky pad, but didn't like how the bottom of my saddle got wet and dirty. So I used a thin blanket on top.
My other favorite pad has a blanket top, neoprene middle and felt bottom.
The absolute best saddle pad hands down is a plain felt wool pad. Mine is the 1" thick one. I have used nothing else for over 10 years now. I have many others , some given to me including the tacky pads but for wicking away sweat, and protection for the horses back there is nothing else!! Sure, there will always be something else new and neat, but don't fall victim to the latest fads.
"My treasures do not sparkle or glitter, they shine in the sunlight and nicker to me in the night"
I have a country supply/horse.com double synthetic fleece blanket (the gazelle or whichever one has no foam in it, just double fleece) that I use layered over a tacky liner. Also the same effect from a tackylined cheap fleece pad from Chick's. These work real well on my mare under her Abetta, and under the gelding's synthetic Paragon/endurance knockoff. When I use the wide gullet Abetta on the narrow gelding I use a one inch thick felt pad to take up some room, again with the thin tacky liner under the pad. These horses are ridden by heavyweight riders for hours and hours at a time thru the hot Georgia summers and so far this year, no problems. Last summer we had saddle issues with both nags and they both got white hairs behind the withers. With their new saddles and the above pads so far no problems at all. I used to swear by thick wool and nothing but wool. I did use a tacky type thick ventilated pad on the gelding under his saddle but it didnt work as well as the fleece layered arrangement for some reason.
Country supply claims the synthetic fleece allows moisture to dissipate and maybe it does--dunno. I do know that it has to be a pretty long hot ride here for them to come home excessively hot under the saddle--case in point, 5 hour midday (10-3PM) cross country ride the other day-- temps in the 90's, humidity fairly high, neither horse was steamy when untacked.
ETA--whenever either horse is ridden with my buddy's Ortho Flex, that horse has a nice long dry spot down their spine, and demonstrably the cooler back. Those booties and panels really are great--wish you could have that system under any saddle for a similar effect.
Toklat Woolback endurance pad with Ultracell inserts, and felt inserts. I can't imagine a sheep running around its whole life wearing neoprene, rubber or a tacky tack suit. They seem pretty comfortable in their wool. It wicks, it breathes, ir moves. I've given up on synthetic pads. I am a die-hard wool convert. It does not slip or shift, even on a horse with bad back conformation. It always leaves a perfect sweat pattern on every horse I use it on.
I have one of those SMX Air Ride pads, and while it looks really nice, and it's okay for short rides, I would not trust my horse's back to that pad for long rides. It feels like a cheap chunk of cardboard with some bubble wrap over it. I use it as a backup or when my dad rides the QH on short rides - he goes about 5-8 miles. I do love the way those pads look and fit their back though.
There was a story on Ridecamp about an endurance horse who lost a lot of skin on his back due to heat blistering from a Supracor pad. And another story by a poster here about a piece of that "dryback" material (like Dixie Midnight) that tore loose and rubbed a nasty sore on a horse.
I guess I just feel safest with good ole, thick, clean wool. I don't like the navajo blankets just because they're so thin with no cushion. I like the 1" thick felted wool pads also.
Prof Choice Air Ride pads: I guess all those reiners, can chasers, cutters, working cow horses putting 8 million miles a year on those pads doesn't cut it for some folks . I've seen what's inside the new Air Ride pads: it's this cool almost styrofoam-looking material that won't hold water- it runs right through it, and does an amazing job reducing concussion or the feel of any tight spots- you can try to dig your knuckle into your opposite hand's palm through it, and just about not feel it. I use a newer one with the kidney shaped inserts in it under my QH's custom Rocking R and he's happy as a clam in it. We've logged a zillion miles in it, and the other one that I've got is at least 6-7 years old. His back has improved under that custom saddle, and the Charmayne James version is a lower profile than my older one, hence the new pad. But the old one is good as new, just dirtier, lol.
as for Navajos, the GOOD ones, the real ones, are 3/4" thick once they are doubled, and do a great job. Pure wool. Not cheap, but a great pad if you like that traditional look. I have one I've used pretty hard since high school and that was a lonnng time ago.