Best Bareback Pads – Buyer’s Guide (May 2017)

I love bareback horseback riding! For me, it’s because when there’s no clunky saddle between me and my horse, it seems I can feel every powerful muscle on her back tense and relax in rhythmic order. You know how when your horse picks up into a smooth canter you feel like you’re floating over clouds? Is it just me, or don’t you feel that it’s much more exhilarating when you’re riding bareback?

But you know what I hate? Dirt and sweat on my jeans! Also, I’m no spring chicken, so sometimes after a long bareback ride, my tush hurts. And what about my poor mare? What does bareback riding do to her without the padded protection a saddle provides?

There is an answer, you know. Bareback pads.

What Are Bareback Pads?

Many horse owners love to go bareback horse riding, but they hate getting their clothes dirty from their horse’s sweaty coat and dislike that riding bareback sometimes leaves them feeling sore. Also, they worry that riding without any protection for their horse’s back may hurt their horse.

Bareback pads, sometimes referred to as bareback saddles, are like soft saddles that provide a more natural riding experience than traditional saddles but provide the rider with extra padding and grip. They help riders to keep their balance and essentially make the ride more comfortable for both horse and rider than unaided bareback riding. They also prevent dirt, sweat, and molting fur from getting rubbed into your clothes during a long ride.

Basic bareback pads are merely a pad forming a seat that can be fastened to your horse with a cinch. More luxurious examples may have multiple D rings attached to facilitate the use of other equipment, such as breastplates, lead ropes, and water bottles. Some even have pockets for storage and stirrups. There are even bareback pads with stirrups.

I would advise you to be cautious if you’re considering buying a bareback pad with stirrups. Bareback pads have no tree or spinal channel, so it’s easy for the pad to slip if the rider accidentally places more weight in one stirrup than the other. This can potentially lead to a dangerous situation. Also, the stirrup and girth attachment that goes across your horse’s spine will place pressure in one fixed spot on your horse’s spine without the usual protection supplied by a tree or spinal channel. This may cause permanent and serious damage to your horse’s spine.

On the other hand, there are riders who feel that stirrups attached to a bareback pad are a real help when they mount and are essential to help them balance. So, you need to think about your own preferences. You may want to buy a bareback pad with detachable stirrups so that you can use them to begin with but then remove them once you’ve got used to riding bareback.

Personally, I’d recommend that every rider try bareback riding. It’s a more natural way to ride than using a saddle, helps a rider to learn how to communicate with their horse, and improves their sense of balance. However, it’s much trickier than riding with a real saddle, and so I’d recommend that novice riders master riding with a saddle first and then graduate on to bareback riding with a bareback riding pad.

Since you’ve read this far, I guess you’re seriously considering trying riding bareback. If so, I really recommend you use a good quality bareback pad. But which one? There are hundreds on the market, but only one may be right for you. You need to think seriously about what’s important to you when you choose your pad. Below I’ve reviewed 10 popular bareback pads that you might want to consider when you’re deciding which to buy along with a few words of advice about each one.

The 10 Best Bareback Pads

Tahoe Custom Horse Bareback Pad with Reinforced Stirrups & Girth

Derby Originals of Ohio manufacture the Tahoe Tack range of equestrian products, including this particularly popular bareback riding pad which features:

  • suede leather reinforced fenders
  • fleece lining
  • felt core
  • grab strap attached to the front
  • removable stirrups

This bareback pad is designed for a comfortable and safe ride. A lady who enjoys trail riding told me she bought her Tahoe Tack bareback pad specifically because she wanted to go swimming with her horses and wanted something she was confident would survive the experience without any damage. She loves her pad and thinks it’s good value for the money she paid. Apparently, the pad takes a long time to dry after a swim but cleans up fine afterwards, and she now swims with her friends on a regular basis. She likes the girth, the solid buckles, and thinks that the durable stirrups are a great help with mounting. She also claims that her horse shows a preference for this bareback pad over the saddle.

As I said before, I’m a little leery of using stirrups with a bareback pad. Of course, with this model you can detach them. Some folks have told me that if they place excessive weight on one stirrup, the pad slips around, which is potentially dangerous. Needless to say, those people have detached theirs permanently.

 

Best Friend English Style Bareback Riding Pad

This bareback pad is made by Best Friend Equine Supply, one of the newer companies in the tack business founded in Kentucky in 1995.

This bareback pad features:

  • synthetic suede seat for a great grip
  • non-slip breathable base and girth
  • high density foam core for a comfy ride
  • a shape contoured to fit the shape of your horse
  • easy to clean and care for
  • additional padding on the withers
  • available in two sizes, for adult or child rider/horse or pony

The manufacturer of this pad began operations in the nineties with the specific aim of designing and then providing a better quality bareback riding pad than any then on the market. Though they have since expanded their product range to include other items, such as halters and muzzles, pads are still a focus for this company.

If you want to feel close to your horse yet comfortable while bareback riding, this pad is a great choice. A riding instructor informed me that she uses this pad with all her students because she finds it very universal for all riders and horses within the size range. She particularly likes the extra padding provided on the withers. However, she suggested that a saddle pad underneath this bareback pad might work better if your horse has a particularly bony back. The sturdy construction appeals to her very much because it makes it very hard-wearing.

Note that with this bareback pad, if you have a larger horse, say 17 hands tall, then the pad will look small on its back, and the girth provided almost certainly won’t fit. However, Best Friends do sell a matching bareback pad girth extender, which solves this problem for a little extra cost. The girth circumference ranges for the two product sizes are 60 to 86 inches for the horse and 53 to 76 inches for the pony size option. Make sure you select the correct version for your horse!

 

Best Friend Western Style Bareback Pad

This is another quality product manufactured by Best Friend Equine Supply and includes:

  • synthetic suede top for a better gripping seat
  • non-slip breathable base and girth
  • high-density foam core with additional padding in the withers for a comfy ride
  • contoured to match the shape of your horse
  • easy to clean and care for
  • handy side pocket on one side and water bottle on the other
  • convenient hand hold

As noted above, this company was established specifically to produce better bareback saddle pads, so you know that these people care, and this is going to be one of the best quality pads on the market. The supplied girth fits circumferences of between 60” and 86”, though you can buy extenders that add up to 14” to that.

One mother who bought this for her daughter told me that she adores this bareback pad and recommends it to all her friends who have horses. She thinks it looks stylish, and her daughter says that it’s comfortable and does not slide around at all.

One handy tips when you’re on the trail and alone. Do NOT keep your cell phone in the side pocket. Keep it in your jacket pocket instead. Imagine what happens if your horse spooks, throws you off, and then runs away. Will your horse dial 911 for you?

Best Friend Comfort Plus Bareback Pad

This is the third bareback pad featured in this guide manufactured by Best Friend Equine Supply. There is a reason for that. This company focus on bareback pads, and they’re good at what they do. In fact, if you check the ratings on Amazon, you’ll find that this particular Best Friend bareback pad is the highest rated of this selection.

The Comfort Plus Bareback Pad features:

  • a plush top for a comfy ride
  • non-slip breathable adjustable girth
  • girth range from 49” to 82” circumference
  • D rings at the cantle and pommel

This pad is quite simply loved by everybody who tries it. One enthusiastic rider told me that she thought riding with this pad was like riding on a cloud. She had health issues with her back and so was leery of bareback riding as she found it uncomfortable. However, she gave this pad a go and says that she is amazed at the results. Even though she owns a high withered horse, she found this pad really comfortable to ride. However, she noted that when her horse grew his winter coat, the pad began to slip backward a little. She made use of the D rings provided and clipped on a breast collar, which fixed the issue. She also finds the pad easy to clean with a wet rag.

As a side note, avoid using detergents when cleaning this product as I’ve heard it sometimes doesn’t go too well. If your horse has a particularly bony spine, I’d also recommend a regular saddle pad underneath to add just a little more padding.

Intrepid International Non-Slip Bottom English Bareback Pad

This bareback pad is made by Intrepid International, a relatively new manufacturer founded in 1996 and based in New Holland, Pennsylvania.

This bareback pad features:

  • non-slip base
  • foam filling
  • fleece top
  • fleece girth included

These bareback pads were designed with safety in mind for both adults and kids. A keen amateur show jumper told me that when she’s just riding for fun, she loves to use this particular bareback pad because she feels comfortable using it to canter and even jump her 16 hand warmblood. However, she notes that the girth might struggle to fit around a more stocky, taller horse, and yet also feels that the pad would look too big on a pony.

Intrepid International Comfort Plus Western Style Bareback Pad

This is another high quality bareback pad from Intrepid International in Pennsylvania and features:

  • breathable suede that cleans easily
  • open weave non-slip base
  • non-slip elasticized adjustable girth
  • D rings at the pommel and cantle

Intrepid International designed these pads with safety as their main concern and for both adults and children to use, but for customers who prefer more Western style tack. An experienced bareback rider recently told me that she’d bought two of these bareback pads because the first she bought went with her previous horse when she sold it on and she bought the same style pad again for her new horse because she loved it so much. She says it’s the best pad she ever used, though she’s tried several makes and models over the years, and very reasonably priced. Since she only likes to ride bareback, her Comfort Plus Western Style Bareback Pad is her only “saddle”.

I must emphasize here that although some folks refer to their bareback pads as “saddles”, they really aren’t saddles at all and should never be confused for one. A saddle provides much more support for the rider and protection for the horse when riding. I would recommend anybody new to riding to master riding in the saddle first, either Western or English style, and only then progress onto bareback riding. Bareback riding is fun, but you need more balance and experience to be proficient bareback than you do with a saddle and stirrups.

Weaver Leather Herculon Bareback Pad

This bareback pad is made by Weaver Leather, a company founded in Ohio in 1973 which has earned a reputation for high quality leather products.

This bareback pad features:

  • Merino wool fleece bottom for extra cushioning for both horse and rider
  • Herculon mildew resistant top, quick drying and easy to clean
  • 1 inch thick felt core
  • cut back design over the withers to ensure a great fit

This reliable bareback pad was manufactured for optimum quality and utility. A regular rider who bought one told me that he loves his Herculon Bareback Pad because the youngster he is bringing along sometimes gives him a bumpy ride, almost like a Bronco, but this pad has great grip and provides a well cushioned surface to sit on. On the negative side, he feels it’s a great shame they didn’t provide any strong D rings because he would have liked to use a breastplate. Other than that, he loves the quality of the workmanship.

Toklat Microsuede Bareback Pad

This bareback pad is made by Toklat Originals, a company in Oregon that has been selling tack since 1976.

This bareback pad features:

  • an ultra-soft MicroSuede top to prevent the rider slipping
  • a removable, machine-washable girth that adjusts on both sides
  • a fleece bottom
  • felt lining
  • guaranteed to be made in the USA

This bareback pad was designed to prevent slipping and provide a really comfortable seat. It is especially suitable for younger riders.

A horse breeder told me that this was the bareback pad she chose for her 12 year old granddaughter. She likes the adjustable girth, which she finds easy to fasten, and loves the feel of the non-slip surface for the rider. She considers it very well made.

Tough-1 Premium Bareback Pad

This bareback pad is supplied by JT International, a well known tack distributor based in Indiana that has been in business since 1973.

This bareback pad features:

  • a tough 600 denier Nylon outer shell
  • fleece lined bottom offering great comfort
  • lightweight so you feel closer to your horse
  • raised pommel and cantle to provide an more secure seat
  • fully adjustable Western-style plastic stirrups supplied
  • Strong D rings for hanging saddle bags and water bottles

This bareback pad was designed to be lightweight in order to facilitate that bareback feel and yet also incorporates saddle like features for safety.

A trail riding enthusiast told me she loves this bareback pad. She finds that the lightweight seat enables her to feel every movement of her horse, and yet she also feels like she’s sitting on a pillow because it’s so comfy. She feels secure while ascending and descending steep slopes, and on the flat in trot and canter. She had a few problems using the stirrups to begin with until she learned how to fasten them properly, which was not made clear in the manufacturer’s instructions. To secure the stirrups on this model, the straps must be looped around the top holder of the stirrup twice to stop them slipping.

When properly fastened, the stirrup leathers are relatively short, so taller people will not be able to use them. If you’re 6′ tall, you will probably struggle. The actual stirrups are plastic, not steel which would be better, and lots of riders have noted that the nuts on the stirrups are loose and easily lost. If you do buy this pad, make sure you tighten the nuts and maybe use plumber’s tape to hold them in place. Note that this product does NOT come with a cinch.

Kensington KPP Fleece Bareback Pad

This bareback pad is made by Kensington Protective Products, a long-established company that has manufactured tack in California since 1954. The pad was designed for maximum user comfort while bareback riding.

This bareback pad features:

  • maximum comfort seat
  • heavy duty saddle fleece
  • 1 inch thick foam core
  • an easy mount center handle
  • double billet straps for maximum versatility

A keen rider told me that he found this bareback pad much more comfortable than he had expected when he first saw it in the saddlery, and that he found it didn’t slide as much as other pads he’d tried. He also noted that he’d used the same pad on multiple horses and ponies of varied size and found it fit well every time. But he did say that after a year of hard use, it was not as soft as he’d originally found it though still functional.

I’d say a year’s worth of daily rides is worth the money this particular pad cost, even if it’s not so comfortable for him to use now. Clearly, any item of tack you use so regularly as this guy is going to suffer wear and tear. I mean, how many stirrup leathers have you gone through over the years?

However, take note. If you’ve got a larger horse, say over 16 hands and rotund, you may struggle to make the girth supplied with this pad fit and so need to buy an extension.

What Next?

So, you’ve read all I have to say about bareback riding pads and perused my reviews of 10 popular models. From what I wrote, it should be obvious to you that riding bareback is fun and will help you bond with your horse. But equally, it should now be clear that using a bareback riding pad will significantly improve your riding experience and make it much safer for both you and your horse. Your only real decision now should be which of these pads you want to buy.

Happy trails!