A really interesting write up from Centaur Biomechanics about the way half pads affect saddle fit. The article can be found here and is very interesting indeed. The results show that under a correctly fitting saddle, a wool half pad with a spine channel showed less pressure than without and less than a gel half pad. This could be advantageous for absorbing rider locomotion.
This is something that definitely has a bearing on the way we fit saddles and ride our horses. The use of wool half pads at top level in equestrian sport has long been the case. Many yards have a selection of different types and thicknesses of wool pads as well – some have shims to allow for better fit, some are very thick and fluffy for those saddles that may be a tad too wide or for the horse with the sensitive back. You very regularly see wool half pads under jump saddles to help cushion the saddle a little in case you land a little heavily after a jump, or just to make the horse more comfortable. To have research that back this up as an ok, and perhaps even good, thing to do is wonderful.
Whilst riders at the top level have regular saddle fit checks and often know a great deal about saddle fit themselves, at the lower levels owners and riders can often feel overwhelmed by things they read online that may not always be correct or up to date information. I often recommend a saddle fit check, and will also recommend half pads where I feel they may be of use. The notes that were made in the article in Horse & Hound were quite interesting in that they suggested more half pad use with riding school horses and with beginner riders. This is quite an excellent idea as many of those riders starting out on their journey aren’t as light or balanced in the seat as a professional rider. And, if professional riders are using half pads to absorb some of the impact from their riding, then of course those riders at lower level should be doing the same as the instances of needing that absorbtion of locomotive power from the rider increases as the skill levels decrease.
Overall, a great study, and an area I hope they research further. As always, please use a qualified saddle fitter to check your saddle fit and discuss with them the use of a half pad under it.