Therapeutic Pads - Prevention: The gatekeeper’s key to wellness.
Would you buy an extra pair of socks to solve a shoe fit problem? Would you wear thick wool socks with your dress shoes? It seems ridiculous but the uses of therapeutic pads are often misused to try to solve saddle-fit problems. If you did wear extra socks to make your shoe fit and decided to take a 2 mile walk, it might work the first time. But if you plan on walking again in the same shoe the sock solution is not going to work. Both the socks for the person and the therapeutic pads used for horses provide only temporary relief for what could become a long term problem.
The therapeutic pad may help, if the tree of the saddle is wide enough. The most common scenario - is if the tree is already too narrow and the addition of the pad causes more pressure on the withers. Extra pads, such as pommel pads, compress the withers even more. Since the addition of most therapeutic pads narrows the space available for the withers and the gullet, the pommel will sit higher in front, as it does when the tree is too narrow. This unbalances the rider, who then adds more pads under the back of the saddle, lifting the back and driving more pressure onto the withers. This may be a solution for the rider but it is not a practical solution for the well-being of the horse.
Frequently the addition of a pad will cause a dramatic improvement in a horse's performance. Although this is true, it may last for only a couple of days or possibly several months, but the same problems usually return. Muscles will atrophy along each side of the withers after long use with thick pads. The pad changes the fit of the saddle and the pressure points move slightly. The intensity of the pressure point is also changed by the addition of the pad but is seldom eliminated. The pressure points eventually find their way through the pads and cause the same problems again. This results in an unending attempt to find another pad to help correct the problem.
Shims are thin pads the can be placed under a part of the saddle. For example, if a saddle is slightly too wide you can place shims on either side of the front to correct it. Shims made from open-cell foam can be added sometimes to help balance the saddle. Shims can make the problem worse so be careful that they do not interfere with saddle fit.
If a pad acts as an interface and shock absorber and the saddle is properly fitted, it can be a big help to these horses. The saddle must be fitted with a pad in mind so there will be enough room for the withers with the pad in place. The ideal pad may not have been invented yet - but it should have memory, be not too thick and most importantly it breathes. For endurance horses it is especially important that the pads breathe due to the long hours in the saddle. The good news is that many pads on the market are useful; the secret is to select the pad with care and fit it with the saddle, just as you would fit a shoe with the type of sock it will be worn with.
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