Many of us on the hunter/jumper circuit (myself included) tend to stick to our favorite, tried-and-true brands of choice, especially when it comes to performance products for our horses. I’ve bought the same brand of stirrup leathers and front and hind boots for years, and I’ve been pretty consistent in my choice of saddle pads as well. Brand loyalty has its attributes, but it also has drawbacks—namely, missing out (for years!) on the modern technology and superior materials that might be available elsewhere. Fortunately, as the reviewer for Fleeceworks’ suit of performance saddle pads and quilted wraps, I’ve seen the error of my ways.
The Fleeceworks sheepskin with banded edge half-pad (MSRP $236) is shimmable, meaning there are inserts available to help balance and correct your saddle fit as needed. My horse’s saddle fits him well, so in the past I’ve ridden only with a minimalist square pad even though, personally, I prefer the feeling of a little extra height that a half pad gives me, especially while jumping. In the past, other brands I’ve tried, even those with memory foam, have proven to be too thick in the withers, and I had the sense my horse was uncomfortable. Fleeceworks’ memory foam front inserts squish down to almost nothing, meaning my horse didn’t lose the freedom of motion in his shoulders, and I was able to gain a little height in the tack over fences—a win-win!
What’s more, these pads are highly customizable and work with close contact, all purpose, and dressage saddles. You can even customize the inserts, adding a full insert to the body of the pad, a riser in the back, or substitute eco-wool for memory foam if you’re looking for a more traditional padding material. All and all, if you’re like me and you haven’t been able to find the right half-pad, don’t despair until you’ve given this one a try. I’m definitely excited to use my Fleeceworks half pad in the jumper ring this winter.
Something else I’ll be adding to my regular hacking lineup: the Fleeceworks Pads with Purpose baby pad (MSRP $29.99). This lightweight, quilted pad lays flat underneath your saddle and is designed for thermal balance–meaning that the construction is designed to pull heat and moisture away from your horse’s skin. The baby pad has well-placed girth tabs which are also a plus for holding your saddle in place (not all baby pads have them) and it works great as a base layer under your Fleeceworks half-pad. It’s available in two sizes: medium and large. But the best part of this baby pad? It’s a purchase you can feel good about, too.
Giving back has always been a part of Fleeceworks founder Judy McSwain’s vision for her company, which is why, in 2016, she developed her Pads with Purpose initiative. Here’s how it works: choose one of 13 pad varieties that participate in the program (some of these, like the baby pads, can be personalized with the trim color of your choice). Next, pick from a list of six charities, which include organizations like Feed America, Halt Cancer at X, Animal Rescue Corps and the Literacy Project. Fleeceworks will then donate between 10 and 15 percent of your pad’s purchase price to that organization, and the result is two-fold. You get a great saddle pad and every day that you ride in it is a day you can feel good about.
Fleeceworks is also making a concerted effort to break through what I like to call “the discipline barrier” and their Easy Care Bamboo Non-Slip Hunter Pad (MSRP $69.99) is a great example of this. I’ve only ridden in one brand of fleece hunter pad since I started riding 20-plus years ago, but that now seems silly in retrospect.
While the top of the Fleeceworks pad features traditional fleece so it works for the show ring, the underside is a mix of quilted flannel with bamboo lining. Fleeceworks’ hallmark has been their dedication to using natural fabrics and incorporating technology —namely Australian Merino sheepskin and a proprietary blended Therawool—to produce the best performance products. Easy Care Bamboo is the latest of these to be included in the Fleeceworks line in a big way, and for good reason.
Bamboo fiber adds support without excess bulk, and has both moisture- and heat-wicking properties. The resulting hunter pad kept my horse dry and comfortable during a particularly intense flatwork session, while the non-slip microfiber patches at the withers kept the pad from sliding around during my ride. (One quick note about ordering: the natural fibers used in this pad, while dryer-safe, do have a tendency to shrink, sometimes as much as a ¼ to ½-inch, so be sure to measure accordingly!)
Easy Care Bamboo has also been worked into the batting of Fleeceworks Easy Care Bamboo Leg Wraps (MSRP $26-$29, available in 12, 14, 16 and 18 inch pairs). This is a great addition to a performance product that many of us use at least once a week or more. Breathability and moisture removal are important when supporting your horse’s legs after a jumping session, shipping them for hours in a trailer, or keeping a wound or injury clean and dry. As an added bonus: bamboo also has natural antibacterial properties.
I can also attest to the fact that the fabric feels great against the skin. How do I know this? I’ve been wearing a pair of Easy Care Bamboo Slides around the house, made with the same bamboo batting as the quilted wraps, and they are as cushy and comfortable as they come.
The bottom line: tradition is great, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give more modern materials a chance. The natural technologies used to make Fleeceworks pads and wraps aren’t just innovative and cool, they’re products with a conscience. Even more importantly, I think they might just be better for my horse in the long run. Who can argue with that?