In the course of fitting saddles it is inevitable that you will run across questions about padding. In my previous post I addressed one of the common saddle pad pitfalls of not having adequate curve for the horse’s natural back shape. I had planned a quick follow up post about sheepskin pads, but once I had started my research, I found there was more to them that I had originally thought.
It is often very difficult to find equine applied scientific studies but I did find some very interesting research on medical grade sheepskin and its use in preventing bed sores in patients. In a study conducted in 2000, the research showed that 13.5% of the patients who used sheepskin developed sores from pressure, whereas 48.6% of patients who did not use sheepskin, developed bedsores. To me this is a pretty staggering figure.
This research led me to ask why. How is it that sheepskin was so much more effective than foam or gel padding? Most of the shock absorbing materials used in saddle pads originated from products designed to prevent bedsores in people. When I started looking more into what sheepskin does, I broke down the fibers and how each piece contributes to the overall cushioning effect.
This lead me to looking into other natural fibers that have been studied in saddle pads. A study performed in 2010 in Austria showed that reindeer fur and sheepskin were the two most effective pad materials to distribute pressure, wick moisture, control temperature, and reduce friction on a horse’s back. The elasticity created by the helix in sheep’s wool, combined with the anti-static and breathability of this natural fibre, gives it this ability.
When we look at synthetic fibers versus natural fibers you can see that synthetic fibers lack the porous nature and coarse texture of natural fibers. It is exactly these elements that make natural fibers a much better choice when looking at a saddle pad. Sheepskin (or reindeer fur) and cotton are the two fibers that work well against the equine back with sheepskin being the preference of the two.
Despite having this information there is still one very salient point – nothing replaces a well fitted saddle, but sheepskin does have some valid advantages. Dr. Christian Peham, a biomechanist by training and Head of Movement Science at the Veterinary School of the University of Vienna, Austria, described a number of studies which had investigated saddle fit, types of saddles, and a variety of pads and numnahs. He demonstrated that a saddle which was too wide for a horse increased the pressures exerted on the back. So regardless of which pad you want to use, having a saddle that is properly fitted is still our number one priority.
Click Here Some examples of sheepskin pads available for English, Western and Endurance Riders