Dressage saddle pads are square in shape and designed to fit the specific style and cut of a dressage saddle.
Dressage saddles are straight cut and feature a long saddle flap with a stirrup bar which is set further back than on a GP or jumping saddle. The saddle is designed to sit behind the shoulder to promote and showcase the horse’s movement.
A dressage saddle has long girth straps so that the buckles sit lower down and not underneath the rider’s leg. Everything is designed to promote the movement of the horse and to position the rider in the best and deepest position in the saddle to facilitate their riding. The stirrup bar set further back encourages the rider’s leg to hang more underneath them compared to a forward cut or jumping saddle and the absence of the girth buckles promotes close and uninterrupted contact between the rider’s leg and the horse’s side for clear aids and communication.
The dressage saddle is a very specific piece of kit and the dressage saddle pad is designed and cut specifically to fit this type of saddle. Sometimes square saddle cloths are also used for jumping saddles but the cut may be slightly different to reflect the very different style of saddle. These saddle cloths are usually smaller and the saddle cloth attachments may also be in a slightly different place.
Most riders have dressage saddle pads they use every day and ones they keep for competition best not least because white is the competition colour. If you use a white pad daily, they can inevitably become marked and grubby no matter how well you wash them and it will significantly increase the amount of your horse laundry. So there are both white and coloured dressage saddle pads available and most ranges stock a variety of colours which you can also co-ordinate with other things like fleece dressage bandages and fly hoods.
Why use a dressage saddle pad?
The dressage saddle pad is there to promote comfort for the horse’s back, to absorb sweat and moisture and to protect the saddle. It is really important that the pad you choose does not interfere with the fit of your dressage saddle otherwise the horse may become uncomfortable and it could alter his gaits and way of going, ultimately leading to long-term soreness and back pain.
When you have a new dressage saddle fitted or your existing saddle checked, the saddle fitter will want to look at the saddle on the horse’s back without any saddle pad or other attachments. Once the fit has been approved then the saddle can also be fitted with your dressage saddle pad and you should then ride in it so that the saddle fitter can assess the fit and see how the saddle performs in all three gaits and on both reins. This is a good opportunity to also assess the fit of your dressage saddle pad and make sure that it is behaving properly, not moving or slipping or rucking up and causing uncomfortable pressure points.
Factors to consider before choosing a dressage saddle pad
- How thick do you want the saddle pad to be? Some pads are super quilted and can be hot or might even affect your saddle fit whereas others are thinner
- Are you using anything else with the saddle pad that might affect the fit like a half sheepskin or a gel pad or Prolite pad?
- Pay particular attention to the straps that attach the pad to the saddle – most dressage saddle pads have two straps which fit at the front and also two loops on the side to thread the girth through. These straps are one of the biggest bugbears for riders as they never seem to sit in quite the right place. Saddle pads with the longer straps at the front to go under the saddle flap can cause the dressage saddle pad to move slightly on some horses so you might prefer a square with the shorter straps which just tuck through the D rings on the front of the saddle. If the loops don’t sit in the right location in the girth area – and this can be impossible to tell unless you take the saddle pad home and try it – then you can have them moved by someone who is competent with a sewing machine
- Are you going to put the competition number on your horse’s head or on the dressage saddle pad? Under the rules of British Dressage, there is a requirement that the horse’s number should appear on both sides of the horse to make it easier for the judge to identify their competitor and this ruling has been adopted by most unaffiliated competitions as well. Some people use bridle discs but these are fiddly to fit and can move on the horse’s head and become uncomfortable. Alternatively, you can fit a number on either side of the dressage saddle pad so if this is your intention, then make sure you factor this in when you are purchasing as some saddle pads have specific fittings or pockets to enable you to do this
- Does your horse have a certain type of conformation which might affect the cut of the pad? All dressage saddle pads are essentially square but there are different cuts at the front, for example, to fit a horse with prominent or high withers like a Thoroughbred
- Are you buying for schooling and training or competition? For home riding, many riders opt for bright colours because they are more practical and easier to keep clean for daily work and they can also be matched with dressage wraps for clinics or training
- Think about sizing. If you are changing brand, can you measure a current square which you know definitely does it and find an online retailer who provides specific measurements or, buy in store and take the existing saddle cloth with you and even your saddle. Most retailers will allow you to try on rugs, numnahs and saddle cloths and then return them if they don’t fit providing they are not marked or dirty and there is no horse hair on them. When you have your new dressage saddle pad, pop a thin cotton summer sheet on the horse and then put the saddle pad on top and then the saddle to assess the fit. If you do need to return the item then this will keep it clean
- If your horse has sensitive skin then you might need to opt for a 100% cotton pad – some makes are polyester
- LeMieux Luxury Dressage Saddle Pad – this pad features a finish on the outer surface which has a luxury suede-like feel complemented by a super soft bamboo lining which absorbs and controls moisture under the saddle finished with a strong bound outer edge which will not fray. This pad has a classic dressage cut with a high wither and elasticated D-ring tabs and a signature girth protection area in black which also prevents staining and marks on lighter colours. This feature also has interlocking loops to prevent any slipping. This pad is designed very much with horse comfort and practicality in mind and seems to address the standard dressage rider complaints about dressage saddle pads with thoughtful design. The LeMieux Dressage Saddle Pad is available in a range of bright, vibrant colours to match your colour scheme and can be teamed up with dressage wraps and fly hoods of the same shade. Machine washable at 30 degrees
- Horze Windsor Dressage Saddle Pad – the edges of this pad are trimmed with three rows of cord which is a really nice feature, thoughtfully set just inside the edge so there is no risk of rubbing or chafing on the horse’s body. This smart dressage saddle pad from Horze has a quality look smart enough for competition but in a variety of bright colours meaning it is also practical for everyday schooling sessions. The cut is high wither and the pad is made from a fabric which will wick moisture away from the horse to keep him dry and comfortable even in hot weather or intense training lessons. The quilting has a small diamond-style to it which produces a nice quality finish and the foam lining will cushion your ride as well as protecting the horse’s back. This saddle pad has long strap attachments at the front and a girth loop stitched in place to prevent any slippage. The Horze Windsor Dressage Saddle Pad is 100% polyester and machine washable at 40 degrees
- WeatherBeeta Regal Luxe Dressage Saddle Pad – this is one super-smart shiny pad and available in the on-trend colours of Turquoise Duke, Earl Grey and Rose Queen for the fussiest of dressage primadonnas. This satin material is 100 polyester with a special shiny, dirt-repellent finish and a stylish monogrammed crown quilting style whilst the underside of the pad has a quick-drying material to wick away any moisture. These are not colours you can wear for competition but this is a super stylish every day dressage saddle pad which will stand up to continued wear but is smart enough to make a statement. Hand wash only at a cold temperature
- Equi-Theme Horse Riding Polyfill Saddle Pad – a 100% white cotton square with a polyfill padding finished with an uber-stylish wave quilted style. The Equi-Theme Horse Riding Saddle Pad has self-gripping fastening straps and is machine washable at 30 degrees
- Kingsland Klcarin Saddle Pad – a super shiny smart saddle pad finished with two silk ropes and featuring a Coolmax lining with quick-dry action. This saddle pad has two anti-slip sections at the front on both sides
- Eskadron Dressage Saddle Cloth with Trim – a top-quality quilted saddle cloth made of cotton from Eskadron which is the horse division of the famous brand, Pikeur. Choose white or the more flattering cream for competitions and a range of colours for daily schooling and training. The saddle cloths are finished in either gold or silver trim to suit their base colour for just a touch of luxury and pure understated elegance. Match with Eskadron soft fleece bandages to complete the look
- Equiline Octagon Saddle Cloth Banksia – bespoke embroidery with studs in rose gold and dual coloured cord sets this dressage saddle pad apart from the rest. The Equiline Octagon Saddle Cloth is made of a cotton blend with the inner lining in natural ecru to prevent the content of any colouring products from coming into contact with the horse’s back. The cotton mix is breathable and hypoallergenic and the pad is filled with 900g pure breathable cotton wool wadding. This saddle cloth is designed with your horse’s comfort in mind and is superior quality, beautifully finished, yet long-lasting and durable and also machine washable
- HyWither Competition Dressage Pad– this has been designed with the specific requirements of a high withered horse protecting this delicate area from pressure and rubs. These dressage pads are plain in appearance but don’t let that fool you as to their quality; they are understated and perfectly smart enough for competition. The finish is a 3/4” diamond pattern with 1” quality straps with Velcro closures. There are a wide range of colours to choose from to complement any wardrobe
- Shires Performance Suede Dressage Saddle Cloth – robust enough for daily wear, smart enough for competition, the Shires Performance Suede Dressage Saddle Cloth has a unique WickAway stay-dry lining and a smart suede-effect top finish which is not only good looking but easy to brush off to remove dust, dirt and horsehair. This dressage saddle pad has a luxurious thickness to it to promote your horse’s comfort and is contoured for good clearance. Secured with touch close straps and there are some lovely colour choices for every day riding
Check the rulebook
A white dressage square is the standard for competition but some feature coloured trim or patterning or design in part – check whether this is permitted. Some riders will have the square embroidered with the horse’s name or stud or a logo – these embellishments are not always permitted at certain levels of competition.
Caring for your dressage saddle pad
Most riders have dressage saddle pads they use for riding at home and others which they keep for competition best. To keep your dressage saddle pad looking fresh and white, launder it in Napisan which is a product used to remove stains and disinfect and destroy bacteria on baby linens at a low temperature of 40 degrees. If it is safe enough for baby then it will not do any harm to your horse’s delicate skin. Napisan will remove stubborn stains and is not bleach-based and washing at a lower temperature will mean the dressage square will not shrink slightly which can affect the fit over time. Napisan is also kind to any colours on the square from names, logos or sponsors. It is also a brilliant product for white dressage jodhpurs.
Before you wash the square, turn it over and lay it out on the floor. This is a great way to look at the fit of your saddle which should leave a symmetrical mark on each side, only visible on a white pad. Sometimes even with the best care, dressage saddle pads do become marked in the area where the girth sits – it can be impossible to get those black marks or smudges out. But as they sit under the saddle flap and the rider’s leg, they are not normally visible when the saddle pad is being worn. Some manufacturers combat this problem with black inserts in this location which protect the saddle pad from marks.
Most riders find a brand that they like and which suits their particular saddle and then stick with it. You can use solid colours for schooling and lessons and then the white option for competition. Because of the amount of fabric visible on the horse’s side behind the rider’s leg, dressage squares are a great option for personalisation and embroidery:-
- Add your horse’s name
- Promote the stud name or the name of the yard
- Embroider the brand of your horse’s breed
- Add your riding club or pony club
- Advertise your business
- Promote your sponsors
Just be aware that certain levels and types of competition will not always allow anything other than a plain white saddle square and promotion and advertising can be banned on saddle cloths at these events.