Billet loops are out, PVC (polyvinyl chloride, or “sticky” dots) are in. Why are billet loops out’ ’Cause riders don’t use them!
Taking the time to pull a billet out of the buckle guard (not always easy, some fit tight), attaching the pad loop, replacing the buckle guard, and repeating the procedure on the other side before girthing, is often a no-go.
Busy trainers just tuck the billet loop under the flap, where it may or may not stay. Given that billet straps are often ignored, the industry has come up with non-slip options, and all of our tested pads passed the no-slip test. But many of them have much more to offer, and here we distinguish between the good and the great in a wide variety of options and choices.
In this test, we looked for a saddle pad that is durable, has easy care features, and works with the saddle it’s designed to fit. It also must be comfortable for the horse. Thinness (to maximize the feel of our horse), good looks and a good price also get pluses from us.
We used these saddle pads on a variety of horses and saddles, working especially hard to note wear and tear (multiple washings), comfort and the best overall grip.
While we actually tested English pads, we note in the chart the pads that are also available in different Western and English styles.
Horse Feathers Ortho-Plus
The Horse Feathers Ortho-Plus ($89) is a new take on an old tradition — leather and felt. Although a high-quality saddle pad, we found the layered suede top, neoprene middle cushion and felt bottom (80% wool, 20% synthetic) difficult to clean.
We prefer a pad that can go through the washing machine or be hosed clean. This felt had to be carefully sponged, brushed and air dried. The manufacturer recommends using a thin liner to absorb sweat, but we had a hard time fitting the pad, with or without a liner. We also felt the English design needs more room at the withers to reduce pressure.
Professional’s Choice SMx
The Professional’s Choice SMx saddle pad we tested was a full-sized all-purpose cut ($120). The rugged synthetic fabric top is layered over a thick, heavy slab of Supershock under the panels and finished with a lightly quilted soft cotton bottom, which matted and pilled early during our testing.
The Supershock panels are a dense, closed-cell foam. With barely an inch between the two panels across the top, we found it difficult to fit a wide-withered horse. The nylon girth strap was tight, and the flap strap with hook-and-loop closure was unnecessary.
Washing instructions say hand-wash, cool water, mild detergent, but we were dissatisfied with the results, so we threw it in the machine to see what would happen.
The saddle pad took more than a day to line dry, and the bottom was still matted and stained. We would not spend $120 on this saddle pad.
Whinny Widgets Impakt
The Whinney Widgets Impakt ($74) test pad was a regular thickness, large cut. If you like gel, you’ll like this pad. It performs like gel, but it is a lightweight, open-cell foam with a “slow” memory. It bonds between the saddle and the horse. In fact, it has to be “peeled” off the horse after use. This pad imprinted so thoroughly, we could see the saddle stitching in the pad for a minute after removal. As with any foam placed directly against horses’ backs, we were concerned with potential heat buildup. However, we could detect no deviation from normal sweat patterns here.
Hair sticks to this pad, and it needs to be wiped off after each use. If you neglect to wipe it immediately, the embedded hair is difficult to remove, even with the special cleaning sponge ($5.50; save your money — just use a damp terry cloth).
If you are a clean-freak and the hair bothers you, the pad works just as well with a thin quilted cotton liner. The pads are only available in black (we would like to have traditional white also available as an option).
The pad seems to resist moisture and only takes a few hours to air dry if it’s drenched. Although slightly softer and quicker to “bond” in hot weather, we found the pad functioned just as well after many uses as right out of the bag.
This pad does a great service for the hard-to-fit horse, and we recommend it.
Grooma AiRider Saddle Pad
The AiRider pad ($59.95) was a large dressage cut. We appreciate the air-flow qualities of this poly-mesh strand material, but we had difficulty keeping the pad from binding over the withers area. Grooma’s Bob Hazen suggested cutting out the withers area, but when we tried this, we were unhappy with the rough edges, found cut-outs difficult to bevel, and felt some shape integrity was lost after cutting.
Miller’s Roma Equi-Grip Withers Relief
The Roma pad (we tested a regular all-purpose $29.95 and a dressage with fleece backing under the panel, $44.95) is a rugged quilted cotton rectangle, with PVC dots on the saddle side and girth loops only (no unnecessary billet straps to flap around). We liked the scooped shape over the withers and found the sizing quite generous. Our hunter/jumper riders found the pad large and bulky, complaining that it took up too much room in the washing machine. On the contrary, the dressage riders loved the generous sizing.
Regardless of style, these pads are extremely well-designed and tough. They stood up to months of wash and wear, were stuffed in an overcrowded washing machine and hot dryer (against manufacturer’s recommendations!) and came out clean, soft, and ready for more abuse. Recommended.
Whitman’s Non-Slip Quilted Pad
Our Whitman non-slip pad ($20.95) was a large all-purpose style. We liked the combination of low price and rugged durability in this quilted cotton pad with PVC dotted top. The all-purpose style is actually cut for a more forward-seat saddle, and the overall sizing is generous.
As in the Roma, the PVC dots effectively eliminate slip, so we found the billet strap unnecessary. Actually, we didn’t need the girth straps, either. With constant use, washing and drying, the color faded slightly and some quilting unraveled, but neither affected performance as a schooling pad. Riders in hot climates may prefer the contoured cut over the large rectangles, and we love the price. Recommended.
Hartmeyer’s No-Slip pad is available in several styles, and we tested an English general purpose cut ($39.95). These schooling pads won’t win a beauty contest, but pretty is as pretty does, and our testers loved these pads. The material is a soft plastic mesh, which allows air flow and “grips” both the horse and the saddle. We found the thick model provided just the right amount of cushioning. (A thin Western pad is available to be used with additional padding, and a thin “half pad,” called Saddle Secret, is designed to be used under a saddle seat saddle, fitting just under the panels of the saddle.)
The material does not trap heat, hair or sweat. It can be reused on horse after horse, in the hottest climate. It can be hosed off and reused wet, and the shape peaks nicely over the withers. The lightweight, soft and stretchy texture is deceptively tough. We even put the pad through the washing machine, which is not recommended or necessary, but it came out none the worse!
The Hartmeyer English pad came with girth and flap straps, which we found unnecessary. When we told Hartmeyer, they said they had also noted that and no longer put them on the pads.
We would caution using a new, thick pad on a youngster; it makes a slight crinkle sound which could spook a young horse. Don’t judge these pads by their weird looks, they are great performers. Recommended.
Canterbury Fleece Show Pad
The Canterbury pad we tested was a 17.5” all-purpose design ($35). This is a traditional fleece show pad, reasonably priced, offering great styling and good looks with a wide variety of sizing (available in many seat siz es, including half sizes).
Although the quilted cotton bottom gives it a no-slip quality against the horse, fleece is notoriously slippery. Some narrow or hard-to-fit horses may actually need those billet and girth straps with this pad. Problem is, we found the billet straps too short. Our test model had a nine-inch strap, set 4.5 inches in from the edge of the pad, which would not reach the billets.
We would like to see Canterbury the billet strap attached less than two inches from the front edge of the pad.
The Wilker’s Cling-On pad ($35.90) is a fleece-and-cotton quilted show pad that exceeded our expectations, and the affordable price makes it useful for both show and schooling. The pad is designed with four-inch PVC circles on both sides, which grip both the horse and saddle.
The PVC patches void the need for straps, offering convenient on and off use. On the horse side, the rugged cotton flannel is heavily quilted (10 stitches per inch) with additional border stitching for shape integrity. The PVC patch is positioned on either side of the withers and functions well even after half the dots are worn off (signs of wear appeared after months of heavy use and over 50 washings). On the saddle side, the PVC patches are positioned lower down on both sides to grip the saddle at the center of the flap, well below the panels. The top quality fleece stood up to rugged use, washed and dried easily, and resisted stains. Recommended.
Wilker’s Cling-On, from Dover Saddlery, wins the overall prize for its creative design, rugged construction, affordable price and versatility for show or schooling.
Replacing straps with PVC patches offers the on-off convenience we are looking for in the non-slip pad category, but without compromising the traditional styling we want for the show ring.
The Best Buy award easily went to to Whitman Saddle Mfg.’s non-slip quilted pad, which is a solid pad at an excellent price.
We must also give honorable mentions to two “high tech” wonders, Hartmeyer’s No-Slip and Whinney Widgets’ Impakt pads. These are impressive innovations in non-slip saddle pads.
Also With This Article
Click here to view “Non-Slip Saddle Pads Specifications.”
Contact Your Local Tack Store Or:
PO Box 5487
Tucson, AZ 85703
800/477-7789 ext 2311
2709 Via Orange Way
Spring Valley, CA 91978
Rt. 4 Box 4848
Monticello, FL 32344
Grooma/White Horse Trading
PO Box 69003
Portland, OR 97201-0003
235 Murray Hill Parkway
East Rutherford, NJ 07073
Whitman Saddle Mfg. Co.
5272 West Michigan
Kalamoazoo, MI 49006
7111 W. Bethel Ave.
Muncie, IN 47304
PO Box 585
Quakertown, PA 18951
Holliston, MA 01746