Can a saddle pad help with back problems (riders)? An experience report.
I am a 50 year old adult amateur dressage rider who has spinal degeneration, scoliosis and moderate osteoarthritis in her back. I have had back problems for a long time and when my first dressage horse retired I decided to go with an Andalusian horse because this breed is known for its soft gaits. Despite my efforts to manage my pain, it got so bad this fall that I feared I would have to give up riding. But before I took this drastic step, I wanted to look for a saddle pad that might help to minimize the impact of riding.
As a rider, the well-being of my horse comes first. At the end of the last show season, my horse received an extensive massage and a visit from the chiropractor. Both therapists confirmed that my horse has no problems in the back. With this clean bill of health, I was able to fully focus on the search for a saddle pad.
Since my saddle is fitted to my horse, all thicker pads (such as sheepskin, memory foam, gel, etc.) were automatically excluded from the search. The first saddle pad I tried was the Toklat Matrix Impact Pro Pad. I bought this pad for my previous horse a few years ago because it had back problems. Back then it went very well under the matrix pad and I thought it could work for me now. I tested the Matrix Pad over several days:
On the first day I had the pad under my saddle all the time and rode a normal training session with walk, trot and canter. I did not notice any improvement in my back or in the movement of my horse.
On the second day I use the matrix pad in the first part of the training session and rode the second part without. I did this on the third day, too, but in reverse order. Unfortunately I couldn't feel any change with the Matrix Pad. I called the manufacturer and asked if maybe the Extreme-Pro Impact Pad would be better for me. The customer service informed me that the pad was designed only for the protection of the horse and not for the rider. Here I have to agree with the manufacturer.
Next, the Thinline Ultra Basic Pad was tried using the same procedure as the Matrix Pad. I and my horse really enjoyed this pad and I could feel a difference in impact. Sitting out was especially less jarring. This may be because it wasn't necessary to flex my back to protect it. Therefore I was able to adapt to the movements of my horse, which then also improved the contact with my horse. I also noticed that my horse showed slightly better extensions. Now the pad is of course not a miracle cure and suddenly my horse did not show any extensions that would make the audience cry of joy, but it provided an improvement. I had borrowed the pad from our stable manager and didn't want to return it. I was actually ready to end my search, but there was still a small part of me that wasn't 100% satisfied with the protection the pad provided for my back.
I decided to do one last search for the perfect saddle pad and came across an article that covered the benefits of D3O® material. This then brought me to the Invictus saddle pad. D3O® is used as protective material in various areas, such as mountain biking, motorcycle protective clothing, winter sports, American football, ice hockey, cell phone and laptop protective covers and military and police protection. (All information about D3O® is on
the website) In summary, DXNUMXO® is a patented polymer whose molecules flow freely but contract when impacted. In this way, impact can spread over a large area, even though the pad is only XNUMX cm thick. What made me curious was the statement that the force that is transferred to the body (both horse and rider) is significantly reduced.
First of all, I would like to say that the customer service at Invictus was outstanding! I was offered a 2 week trial period to make sure the pad was right for me. This is something I would want for all therapeutic saddle pads. The pad was shipped in a nice storage bag. The pad was different than I expected. The upper was soft - the manufacturer calls it 'faux suede', but it's not the same type of faux suede that you know from other items. The material on the underside of the pad is non-slip. I was expecting the pad to feel like a gel pad, but it's not like that. My best description would be that it is a slightly more flexible version of the Thinline Pad - but still stable (not stiff). Overall, it was completely different from the Toklat and Thinline Pads.
There was also an interesting fact for my test, being cold weather. I live in Northern Ontario (Canada) and winter arrived together with the Invictus Pad. It wasn't the absolute cold of the deep Canadian winter yet, but temperatures were a fresh -7 and -14 degrees Celsius on average. In my research, I only came across one criticism of the pad, namely that it hardens in cold weather. I was curious how hard it was going to be and I left it outside at -12 degrees and made sure it wasn't in the sun. I checked every 5 minutes: after the first 5 minutes there was only a very slight change, after 10 minutes it was stiff, but you could still bend it. After 20 minutes it felt like modeling clay, you could bend it, but it took a little more strength. It took 50 minutes for it to be totally hard that it could no longer be bent.
On the website it was said that the pad returns to its natural state due to the horse's body heat. However, I didn't want to take the risk that the pad would not become soft again and decided to put the pad under my winter coat and go for a walk with my dogs. I set an alarm on my watch for 5 minutes and when I checked the pad under my winter coat it felt softer. After 15 minutes it was just as soft as it was in my home. This tells me that my horse's body heat changes the pad from an extremely stiff state to a soft, agile one in about 15 minutes.
One concern with the Invictus Pad was that it would be too thick for my custom saddle. I spoke to my saddler who told me it shouldn't be a problem since the pad is only 1,5cm thick. When saddling up I could see that it didn't change the fit of the saddle and my horse showed no signs that the saddle would press with the pad.
I have to admit that I was very skeptical about the Invictus Pad. I had really liked the Thinline Pad and I didn't think the Invictus Pad could outperform it. With the Thinline Pad, I noticed an impact absorption, but it was subtle. I immediately fell in love with the Invictus Pad. I felt a clear difference, but couldn't immediately see the reason for it. Until I took the pad down halfway through the ride. I was very surprised to feel how “noisy” my horse felt - i.e. I could feel every little jarring movement. With the Invictus Pad I was able to relax my back and adapt freely to the movement of the horse. I was also able to sit deeper in the saddle, which made sitting trot even easier and my horse felt more responsive. (Note: Since the pad protects the horse's back from the impact of an inelastic seat, the muscles can relax and the horse's back can work in an elastic, positive tension. This is much more comfortable and easier to sit.) At the end of the training session I didn't have strong muscle cramps in my back as usual.
I also have to mention that the pad did not slip during the ride.
My search for a saddle pad has ended with the Invictus Pad as the clear winner. If this pad can protect my back like this, I think that my horse will also feel the same benefits. The Invictus Pad will help me to ride longer for a while. I hope it can do the same for you.