Horse Riding Equipment - Saddle Blankets
What is a saddle blanket?
In general terms, a saddle blanket is a cloth that is placed under the saddle, between it and the horse's back.
Saddle blankets serve two purposes. First of all, they provide a soft buffer between the horse and the leather (or fake leather) of the saddle. Second of all, they keep sweat and shed hair from collecting on the underside of the leather saddle, which can take forever to clean. Meanwhile, most modern saddle blankets or saddle cloths can be tossed in the washing machine to clean. This saves a lot of time, especially in large barns (although I recommend, when possible, washing horse clothes separately from human clothes...except maybe your barn clothes).
Some people believe riding without a saddle blanket is inherently cruel or abusive. This is not the case - and if your horse gets sores because you rode without a blanket, it means the blanket was compensating for poor saddle fit. A correctly fitted saddle does not need a blanket.
Western Saddle Blankets
The western saddle blanket is often literally a blanket. It is usually a rectangular piece of cloth that is thrown over the horse's back, then the saddle is placed on top of it.
Many western riders choose fancy blankets that have interesting weaves and are chosen to coordinate with the color of the horse. They come in every imaginable color and design...you can find American flag saddle blankets, Indian made ones with native art on them, bright pink ones to cheer the heart of any young girl. Whatever you need, you can find it.
Many modern blankets are shaped slightly to rise at the horse's withers, but a lot of riders still prefer the plain cloth ones.
English Saddle Blankets or Cloths
The English saddle blanket or saddle cloth (both terms are used interchangeably in the US, whilst in England they are always 'saddle cloths' is also a square of material. However, it always has a slight rise to accomodate the withers and is usually a different kind of material.
Whilst western riders prefer woven blankets, the English tradition is for a quilted cloth Also, the English saddle blanket is attached to the saddle, rather than thrown over the back first. At the top front, on each side, is a velcroed strap that is fastened around the first of the girth billets. Each side also has a loop the girth is fed through. Although English saddle cloths without these attachments exist, they are rare and less popular.
Like western blankets, English saddle cloths come in every imaginable color, although they tend to lack the heavy printed or woven designs. Most are plain or are one color and edged in another. Patterned saddle cloths are also well known.
Especially in England, it is not uncommon for saddle cloths to be personalized with embroidery. This may be the horse's name, the rider's name, the barn name or a logo or monogram.
Cloths are generally chosen to look good on the specific horse.
A numnah is a slightly different kind of English saddle cloth, although the word 'numnah' is only used in the United Kingdom to my knowledge.
Instead of being square, a numnah is actually cut to the shape of the saddle. (Numnahs, thus, come in all purpose, jumping and dressage varieties). Only an inch or so of cloth is actually visible.
Numnahs are intended to be less obvious and visible and are often plain in color - black, white, or the same color as the horse being common.
Saddle pads are used to adjust the fit of the saddle, for example, to lift the front of a saddle that is touching the withers.
Too many people use saddle pads as a long-term substitute for a well-fitting saddle - they are not. A horse should not use a saddle pad day in, day out. They are useful if your saddle is in the shop and the one you borrowed is a little iffy and very useful when conditioning a horse that is out of shape or recovering from neglect. A horse's back can change shape a lot as it gets fitter and it's reasonable to use a pad until the horse is close to its fit shape and only then properly fit a saddle.
Saddle pads should not be used to 'compensate' for back pain unless an expert says it is okay.
Bareback pads fit into a slightly different category. A bareback pad is a compromise between riding with nothing and using a saddle. Some bareback pads even have attachments for stirrups. Many have a grab handle on them for emergencies.
However, the primary purpose of a bareback pad is to make riding bareback a little more comfortable and serve as a barrier to keep sweat from getting all over your butt and legs.
Both English and western style bareback pads are available. They are often used by trick riders. The pads seen on circus horses are a kind of bareback pad.
A special kind of bareback pad with a very solid handle is used by practitioners of the sport of vaulting or voltige (gymnastics on horseback).