Choosing an English Saddle Pad or Numnah

Types of English Saddle Pad

Black English saddle hanging on fence near stables.
Abramova_Kseniya / Getty Images

English saddle pads come in many different materials, shapes, and design. Some are traditional white, while others come in wild colors and patterns. Here's how to choose the right pad for you and your horse.

There are a few basic shapes of pads to choose from. A full pad is almost square. A shaped pad is roughly the same shape as the saddle. A half pad fits only under the upper part of the saddle, where the saddle contacts the horse's back. There are also pads that help solve minor saddle fit problems. Saddle pads are not intended to correct major saddle fit problems.

Traditionally, English saddles were used without a pad or 'numnah '. Early saddle pads or blankets were only used to keep the saddle clean, protecting it from sweat and dirt. Now saddle pads are designed to reduce shock, prevent heat build-up, and in the show ring, are an important part of correct turn-out.

Another Name for a Saddle Pad is "Numnah"

The word numnah isn't commonly used in North America, although it is a word some Pony Club members may see on their tests. A numnah is a pad of sheepskin or wool that goes under the saddle to keep the saddle clean and to cushion the horse's or pony's back. In North America, we call a numnah a saddle pad or blanket. The word numnah is more familiar to horse riders in the U.K. is a word like gymkhana that was brought back to the U.K. from India.

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    Full, Square or Dressage Pads

    Dressage Pad
    Photo from Amazon

    Full pads come in a variety of designs. They can be a simple square of quilted fabric or may have rounded or 'swallow tailed' corners for a tailored look. Better quality pads may be thickly quilted or may have a gel or foam center. Full pads are made of a wide variety of materials, from quilted faux suede or cotton to neoprene and other synthetics. Full pads may be contoured to accommodate horses with dropped backs or high withers.

    Most will have leather or synthetic loops to put the girth straps through to prevent slipping. Some may have neoprene or other 'sticky' textile that helps hold the pad in place. Sometimes called dressage pads, white is the correct color to use in dressage shows. Schooling pads come in many fun colors and patterns. The space behind the rider's leg can be embroidered with a logo.

    Because full pads cover a bit more of the horse than other pads, they're not a great choice where the prime consideration is coolness. If you're planning on showing dressage, you'll definitely need a schooling pad in addition to the one you take to shows, because a white pad becomes soiled very quickly.

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    Shaped Pad

    A sheepskin numnah or saddle pad
    Photo from Amazon

    Shaped pads are perhaps the most traditional English saddle pads. The shape of the pad roughly follows the shape of the saddle. Like full pads, they can be made of a wide variety of materials. When you're shopping for a pad, you'll need to keep the type of saddle you have in mind.

    For example, a shaped pad made for an all-purpose saddle will not fit well under a dressage saddle. In just about every English riding discipline, except dressage, it is acceptable to use a shaped pad. For a show, you'll probably need white, or a color that matches your clothing. This will depend upon the show rules. You'll want about one to two inches to show around the outside of your saddle.

    Shaped pads are prone to slipping and bunching, and most will come with loops to attach to either the D-ring on the front of the saddle or to the billet straps. Neoprene or other high-tack material can help prevent slipping. Sometimes, it's almost impossible to prevent a pad from slipping and if that's the case, you'll need to try another pad or consider there may be more serious saddle fit problems.

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    Half Pads

    Half pad saddle pad
    Photo from Amazon

    Half pads have become popular over the last few years. These pads only cover a small portion of the horse's back under the saddle tree. They can be made of either synthetic or natural fleece, which is visible at the front and back, or they may be made of a quilted or thick synthetic material, with rolls of fleece at the front or back. They may have gel or foam centers for shock absorbency. Half pads can be used alone, or put on top of a thin shaped pad. Half pads are most often seen in the hunter-jumper show ring. Half pads can be prone to slipping. Some may be too thick and bouncy.

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    Riser Pads

    Riser pad
    Photo from Amazon

    Riser pads are usually made of synthetic foam-like material and are intended to balance the saddle, reduce shock and even out the pressure. There are front risers and risers that lift the back of the saddle.

    While riser pads and other pads that reduce pressure on the horse's back can help solve minor saddle fitting problems, they cannot make up for a saddle that does not fit the horse.