Baby pads for horses are squares of quilted cotton muslin fabric that are very thin, with either a thin layer of padding or no padding at all. Horseback riders use baby pads as a sweat-absorbing liner that helps keep expensive saddle pads cleaner.
You may have heard horseback riders refer to baby pads and thought “what the heck?” In today’s article, I’ll explain what baby pads are and how they became popular among English riders, jumpers, dressage riders- and even, increasingly, under western saddle blankets.
What is a baby pad and why is it used for horses?
Baby pads, as you might guess from the name, were originally thin pads that parents and caregivers would lay down before placing a baby on top to change its diaper. Essentially, baby pads were the same as a changing pad (you know, before everything with “baby” in the name became high tech, organic, silicone-lined, nonslip, and wired into a baby monitor app)
Just like diaper changing pads have evolved in the last few decades, baby pads for horseback riding purposes have as well. While pain baby pads are still available, they’re sold through tack stores rather than baby supply stores, and most baby pads you will find in tack stores include loops that attach to a saddle’s girth and billets in order to prevent it from slipping or bunching up during use.
How baby pads are used for horses
Baby pads are placed underneath a standard, cushioned saddle pad, as a barrier between the dirt and sweat of a horse’s back and increasingly high-tech saddle pads.
Baby pads are something of a modern invention. Only a few decades ago, saddle pads were relatively easy to clean- many riders rode with simply a towel under their saddle, while others opted for wool blankets or other basic materials. Today, horse saddle pads are often a combination of high-tech fibers, memory foam, silicone, or sheepskin, which makes them much more difficult to clean. Baby pads have become popular as a way to keep sweat and dirt off of these expensive saddle pads so more time could pass between having to clean the saddle pad.
Though sometimes used simply for the sake of style (it’s much less expensive to coordinate your outfit with your saddle pad if your saddle pad is an inexpensive baby pad) most equestrians use baby pads as an easy to wash liner underneath standard saddle pads. Occasionally, a rider with a professionally fit saddle may ride with only a baby pad, since the soft padded panels of the saddle are expertly fit. (Here’s a video where you can learn more about professional saddle fitting)
Using a Baby Pad
To use a baby pad under English or Western saddle, begin with your standard process of tacking up. Groom your horse thoroughly, giving your horse a bath and letting them dry if necessary. A baby pad is often the first piece of tack that is added to the horse when tacking up, since the thin material provided by a baby pad serves as a barrier between the dirt, dust, and sweat of a horse’s back and the more expensive and harder to clean equipment that goes on top of the baby pad.
- Position the baby pad over the horses back behind the horses withers, in the same place the saddle pad goes.
- Once the baby pad is in place, smooth it to remove any creases and place a saddle pad over the top of the baby pad.
- After the saddle pad is in place, reach under the saddle pad and pull the stitched loops of webbing out from under the saddle pad so they can be attached to the saddle the next step.
- Once your baby pad and saddle pad are layered on the horse’s back, it’s time to put the saddle in position.
- With the baby pad against the horse’s skin, and the saddle pad forming a cushioned layer between the horses back and your saddle, place the saddle on the horse’s back, and settle it just behind the withers.
- Grasp the webbing loops of the baby pad and thread your saddle’s billets and/or girth through the loops- this will prevent the baby pad from slipping or bunching up as your horse walks, trots, and canters through your ride.
- After you have looped the attachments of the baby pad onto your saddle, you can continue to tack up as normal, with the baby pad now in place to protect your expensive equipment from dust, dirt, and grime.
Tips for shopping for baby pad
A baby pad isn’t a great choice for every horse and rider, while a baby pad never slips for some riders, other horse and rider combos using baby pad might find them an exercise in frustration as they get bunched up or shift under the saddle, causing discomfort for horse or rider.
If you decide that you’d like to try using a baby pad to make your saddle pad cleaning faster and easier, start with the basic baby pad (there’s no reason to buy an expensive or high-tech baby pad, such as the kind that wick sweat or have other special features) to get a feel for whether you like this addition to your standard horse tack. Buy a basic quilted cotton baby pad and give it a go.