Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Back on Track Dressage Saddle Pad, initial thoughts

Yesterday, I posted about how I'd ordered a few Back on Track products for Nimo.  One of them is a dressage saddle pad.  I had a chance to try it out last night and I wanted to offer my initial thoughts about the pad.

Here is a picture of it by itself on Nimo's back:

Despite the bad lighting, I hope that you can see that the pad has more than enough contour for Nimo's back and withers.

Here is a picture of the pad with the saddle:

I have a fairly large dressage saddle - the seat size is 18.5 and this pad does fit, but if the saddle was any bigger, it probably wouldn't work.  I think the website says the pad has a spine of 22", which is definitely not a larger size pad.  I like to buy pads with a spine of 24-25" because I always worry about the pad shifting during my ride and causing some sort of pressure point under the panels (and it is like fingernails on a chalkboard for me when I see a pad that is either too short or adjusted so the back of the saddle panels rests on the edge of the pad).  Because of how close-fitting the pad was, I was concerned about how it would work during a ride.  I typically cut the billet straps off of my pads because I don't need them, but I decided to leave them on for a few rides in case I felt I needed them.

The drop on the pad is listed as 21".  Again, I think that I prefer something a little longer, like 22-23", but the pad does fit the saddle.  I should note that I think my saddle's flap is a bit on the shorter side.  It isn't actually designated as short, but I think many saddles do have longer flaps, so the drop on the pad might be a concern for those saddles.

I also noticed something I haven't seen on a pad before, and that is a girth strap that is stitched in the middle:

I'm not sure how well you can see it, but the arrow is pointing to the middle stitching in the girth strap.  At first I wasn't too sure about it, but I went ahead and made sure my back billet strap was behind the stitching.  This picture was taken after my ride, and you can see how the stitching did catch the strap and hold it in place.  Depending on how your billet straps are set up, that stitching might be a pro or a con.  But for my saddle, it worked great.

The directions on the pad say not to use it for more than an hour per ride for the first week (then you can use it as long as you need to).  In typical fashion, I did not read these directions before I used the pad.  My ride was actually about an hour and 15 minutes, which is my usual time for a dressage schooling session.  (That time includes a fairly lengthy warm-up and 10-15 minutes of cool-down.)  However, I didn't notice anything bothering Nimo after an hour.

I didn't quite do a typical ride, though.  Part of that was because of the pad (Nimo has been known to be fussy about new pads) and part of it was because it was 50 degrees outside and I didn't want Nimo getting all sweaty.  I wouldn't be done with my ride until 8:45 and I didn't really relish the thought of spending an hour getting him dry before putting him away for the night.  So I took it a little easier than normal.  We spent a full 35 minutes just walking at the beginning of the ride.  I did some cavaletti, some lateral work, some patterns with circles and half-circles, and quite a few transitions between walking on a long rein and walking on contact because that is something Nimo struggles with.  Then I did some trot warm-up with big ovals around the arena, transitions between walk and trot in shoulder-in, canter warm-up with big ovals around the arena plus a few 20 meter circles, and then leg-yielding in the trot to canter transitions, a few cavaletti, and finally counter-canter on a shallow loop.

Nimo was his normal self during all of that.  There were no miracles and I wouldn't say that I noticed any difference one way or the other in terms of how he felt under saddle.  We struggled with things that we normally struggle with (downward transitions, walking straight, counter-canter) and we did well with things that we normally do well with (leg-yielding, nice forward trot movement, big canter).  To be honest, I wasn't really expecting anything.  Based on the reviews I've read, it seems that the benefit in using the BOT products is cumulative and typically experienced over several sessions or even weeks/months.  And because Nimo didn't really have a back issue that I was hoping to fix, there wasn't necessarily anything to be better.

That said, I'm glad I got the pad and I do plan to use it regularly.  The pad is really good quality.  The stitching seems even and strong.  The material seems durable.  The top of the pad feels like a heavy cotton fabric and the bottom feels like flannel.  I'm not sure what the batting is, but it feels substantial without being thick.  The pad itself is a little stiffer than most of the pads that I buy, but that just means it will hold its shape well even when sweaty.  And even if it didn't have special qualities, it would be a good value, particularly if you took advantage of the buy 1 pad, get the second pad half off deal that is offered on BOT's website.  (Just go to the pad you want, then use the drop-down menu to select the Double Pack.)

Also, remember that I mentioned earlier that I was concerned about the pad shifting slightly during my ride and causing a fit issue?  It didn't.  Not a millimeter, as far as I could tell.

Something I haven't already mentioned, but will now is that I was worried about Nimo getting really sweaty underneath the pad because of its warming abilities.  Guess what?  No sweating underneath the pad.  I deliberately worked Nimo with less intensity than usual solely to avoid a lot of sweating, and he finished the ride with some minor sweat on his shoulder and that was it.  Still, I thought the warming of the pad would create more than usual sweat, and I don't think it did, which makes me a lot more comfortable using it, even on warmer days.

So, overall, it's a nice pad, regardless of whether you need it's warming/healing properties.  And I'll keep you posted on whether I see any positive changes in Nimo over time.

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