Depending on you and your horse the filling of the panels may need to be considered when purchasing a saddle. There is always plenty of debate around this topic, this article is just a very brief overview and is intended to simply give you some foundation for a decision.
The role of the panel is to distribute weight and pressure evenly along the horses back. Historically panels have always been flocked, with either wool strands, a blend of wool and synthetic fibres or synthetic fibres filling the lined panel. Today panels are still filled with traditional wool flocking, but foam, either synthetic or natural latex, as well as air-filled are also an option. Each filling has its devotees, and naturally, its opponents.
To tell if your saddle is flocked or foam filled, run your hands along the panels. If they feel smooth they are probably foam, flocked panels tend to have inconsistencies in them.
Wool flocking is soft and conforms to a horse’s back. For this reason flocked saddles are generally adjusted to fit one particular horse.
Wool can be renewed relatively inexpensively Flocking in the panels can be adjusted to fit your horses back and this can be done regularly to accommodate changes as your horse develops. Wool is breathable and for that reason it is reputed to keep the horses back cooler. Fresh flocking also minimises the saddle bouncing and causing concussion to the horses back.
The main disadvantage with flocked panels is the filling can be become hard and lumpy and ceases to perform adequately. The filling can be replaced by a good saddlefitter/saddler. Flocked panels require regular adjusting to function at their best.
Foam Filled Panels
Foam panels are not as thick as flocked panels, giving better cushioning without the bulk of wool and give a feeling of better contact to the rider.
Foam does not pack down or move and does not conform to the horses back. It can be more accommodating to saddles that are used on more than one horse.
Due to the thinner panels foam can also be an advantage to a broad backed horse because of the reduced bulk.
Foam is very durable and holds up well to the concussive stress of jumping. The panels do not change shape and bed down as wool tends to do.
The major disadvantage is that the panels cannot be adjusted as wool can be. You have to use shims and correction pads.
The CAIR Panel System replaces traditional panel fillings with air as the cushioning agent for the horse. Each saddle panel has two independently sealed air panels, with the air acting as a fluid medium to constantly adapt to the horse’s working muscles to eliminate pressure points.