Shimmable half pads, back soreness, saddle suggestions

Hi everyone!

I just got a 3 yo OTTB a few weeks ago with the classic sharkfin withers. On my PPE, the vet noted some significant back soreness (around his withers and general saddle area), that she suggested was likely from poor saddle fit from the seller. She suggested working on stretches, assessing my saddle fit, and if soreness persists, to address it further (x-rays, kissing spine, etc.). I have a vet coming for chiro later next week as well. I haven’t ridden him yet since he’s been home, and I don’t plan to until I get the back soreness addressed and he’s comfortable.

I had someone out for a saddle fitting session, we went over some different brands and fits and what to look for. My saddle (a med wide Equipe Expression) actually fits him quite well. It’s not perfectly balanced and there isn’t quite enough wither clearance, but she suggested a shimmable pad with shims in the front may be a good temporary fix for my saddle fit. He’s young and will muscle up and change shape, so I’m torn between a whole new saddle, or a shimmable pad.

She and several of my friends have saddles from the Kent & Masters line. They have the adjustable gullet plates, and wool flocking, so the saddle could be adjusted as he changes shape. I was able to try a high wither model on him, but the high wither models only come in AP/GP and I strongly dislike riding in GP saddles. If it fits him, I’d go for it, but I’m not a huge fan. Any opinions on the K&M/Thorowgood line for TBs?

That being said - any recommendations for a good shimmable half pad? I was looking at a few options and had some questions.

Would you go for one fully sheepskin lined, or no sheepskin at all? The ThinLine Trifecta pad looks like my top choice. It has sheepskin rolls to keep it in place, but not fully sheepskin lined so that it impacts saddle fit in other ways. But, buying new with shims will likely run me around $400 CAD - that’s about 1/3 of what I’d be paying if I were to buy a used K&M saddle. And, used thinline pads seem hard to come by.

I was also curious about buying a pad with 2 vs 3 shims, or totally customizable shims.
The LeMieux Pro sorb pad - comes either fully sheepskin lined, or completely without, and with 2 shims or 3. There’s also the Mattes, ProLite, and CoopersRidge brands.

Thanks for listening to me ramble on.
Any thoughts or experiences with shimmable pads, OTTB back soreness, and saddle fit for OTTBs is also much appreciated!

Yes, wait until the back soreness has resolved before riding.

As far as half pad choice be guided by your fitter.

I needed to shim on an older horse that was getting a sway back and for that I needed the relatively scarce 6 pocket sheepskin shim to fill in the bridging. If you only need to fill in wither gaps you may be able to get away with something like the Greenhawk gel wither relief pad, about $60 full retail.

But be guided by your saddle fitter. Remember that shims also change the balance of the saddle.

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It seems strange to me that a “medium/wide” saddle could be anywhere near fitting a 3 yr old OTTB with sharkfin withers??? Really? How? IME, a saddle like that would be nowhere near fitting such a beast. “Medium”… maybe, with some shimming. “Narrow”, more like.

But anyway, presuming this horse has just come out of race training… sore backs happen at the track, they are not uncommon. For a variety of reasons. Start by hoping that it is something simple, muscle soreness or bruising which will resolve with time off from being ridden, and by correcting his carriage with basic reschooling, ground work, which you are gonna do with him anyway, to get to know him a bit. Lots of TB miss this in their basic training, if the people working with them lack basic dressage background (the GOOD ones don’t lack this training, but I digress). Just because he is “broke to ride” doesn’t mean that you need to ride him right away… you don’t. Run him through a basic “re-breaking” regimen, just to see what he knows and what he doesn’t, fill any holes that may be present. This gives him time to heal up from a race career, cool out, and get healthy, AND for you to get to know him a bit. All good things. His back will change as he gets fitter, changes his carriage, matures, and muscles up. By the time you are ready to ride him, his back issues may have disappeared. You may need a different saddle at some point. Maybe now.

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Caveat: YMMV. I have never owned a TB that has been a Narrow in any saddle. I’ve had a lot of TBs over the years and a lot of different saddle brands, and they’ve been every type of body shape, but never Narrow. Or a Medium Narrow, now that I think about it. All of my TBs past and present have been Medium, MW, or even Wide!

I even believed a saddle fitter who talked me into getting a “medium narrow” custom saddle for a TB and that ended up being an absolute trainwreck. Horse is now happy in work in a Medium WIDE.

The sharkfin wither is pretty common in TBs especially as they are younger and not necessarily fully filled out across their back and body. It tends to be less drastic in most as they get older. A correlation I see with “shark fin withers” is usually their shoulder is huge - again, not unique in the TB and generally speaking, most Thoroughbreds will have tall withers with a divot behind the withers, and broad shoulders – which can make fitting saddles – especially classical saddles – a challenge.

Regarding the OP, soreness immediately post track is not always a red flag. I assume every TB fresh off of the track is backsore from their work/management and treat accordingly. Good turnout and fixing their track angles will resolve most cases of backsoreness. If that doesn’t fix the issue, you’re looking at something like an injury or something chronic, possibly like KS or SI.

A lot of people like Kent & Masters for their TBs. I don’t have much experience with the brand, none of them that I tried fit my TBs but I never tried all of their saddles.

As for your half pad question: I’ve purchased two Thinlines over the year - one fully sheepskin lined and one just the Thinline padding. I ended up giving the nonsheepskin one away, and the sheepskin one is at my office and I sit in it every day. It works GREAT for me, but not so much for my horse. Both just added too much bulk to the saddle, and I actually ran into an issue with one of my TBs where his shoulders became sore while the Thinline Trifecta (nonsheep-skin) was in use. Something about the lack of clearance through the withers and the saddle pulling the Thinline down over his shoulders, really didn’t sit right with him. I stopped using it and the issue went away - I even had a chat with a few saddle fitters about this (including @shelton01 ) and apparently it is not an uncommon issue.

I wouldn’t ride in a saddle with not quite enough wither clearance - even with shims. I made that mistake once with a horse and never again; I ordered a custom saddle that came a little close in clearance when I sat down in the saddle - you could fit a finger with a rider on board, but no more. It fit four fingers with no rider weight. The fitter thought that was fine temporarily, and advised to ride in it with a lifted pad until she could make it out. I only got three rides in before my horse told me absolutely not - I feel awful for even trying to make it work. The problem with lack of wither clearance is the horse’s shoulders move so much - even a little lack of clearance becomes a big issue once the horse is in movement. Those white scarrings you see on a horse’s withers are from exactly that scenario.

I’ve done away with all halfpads of any variety and now just ride in full sheepskin numnahs (horribly out of fashion, but way cheaper than a full sheepskin Mattes!) or Lemieux Merino sheepskin saddle pads. I got a Lemieux years ago, used and abused it every day, liked it so much I now have four. Completely worth the money and my horses all seem to like the sheepskin backing that goes directly on their back. One of them in particular always wants to nuzzle the sheepskin a bit before it gets put on. He loves his sheepskin pads.


Sharkfin withers makes me think of the Total Saddle Fit wither freedom pad. It comes with some shims, choice of sheepskin (maybe it’s fleece) or not. Works well for a sharky TB I know.

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For horses where the wool would add too much bulk under the saddle, I use the Trifecta or Mattes that doesn’t have any wool. Yes, they do make them.

Otherwise I use LeMieux half-pads and Thinline full sheepskin half-pads. The shims in the LeMieux pads are squishier than the Thinline shims. You can also cut your own out of felt.

Using three shims gives you more flexibility with horses with tricky backs to fit. I have a wb mare who has gone through 4 different shim patterns over the past year: front shims only, front shims and one middle shim, front shims and middle shims, and finally front shims middle shims and right back shim. And then we reflocked the saddle and started over :joy:

Besides wither clearance, there is also the base of withers to attend to. If there isn’t enough width at the base of withers, many horses will complain. And a half pad will magnify the pinching.


His withers are prominent and also long - the long wither gives me a shorter space to work with his back for where the saddle should lie behind the shoulder to his last rib. The rest of his back is fairly broad, and he has a large shoulder. My current saddle has more upswept panels and fit the length of his back well, and there was mostly good contact with the panels (no pinch points or bridging), aside from the lack of clearance at the withers.

We’ve started with lots of groundwork, lunging, and stretches, and he seems to be a pretty quick learner. At the trot on the lunge, his head comes up quite a bit so I’d like to get him to learn to stretch down and use his back more. The canter is unbalanced, and I want to build a better foundation at the walk and especially the trot before attempting to canter. I introduced a surcingle and side reins to him once so far. I used donut side reins but I think he’ll respond better to the elastic, so that’s just going to be trial and error.

It’s a work in progress and I’m still getting to know him, I’m actually enjoying the time not riding and building a foundation from the ground up.

Thanks for your reply!!

I think a lot of people hear sharkfin withers and are quick to think a narrower saddle fit should work - but while he has the prominent withers, the rest of his back is broad and he has a large shoulder. He’s going to be hard to get that perfect fit :cold_sweat:

I know the padding is just a temporary solution - by the time I invest in all kinds of pads to change my saddle fit, he could either 1. Have changed shape entirely, or 2. I could have bought a whole new saddle all together! I am also worried about getting into the padding and adding too much bulk - IMO a well fitting saddle shouldn’t need to be padded up.

The K&M saddle may at least be a more affordable solution while he’s growing and changing shape, and then I’d go for something more custom to both of us. We narrowed it down and think that a high wither compact GP would fit his back best - but no bigger than a 17.5" seat. I was able to try on the similar model on his back (they had a wider gullet in it though).

So overall lots to think about. We’re a bit isolated in my part of Canada from the rest of the ‘horse world’ so I’m having a really hard time getting a fitter to come.

I saw they had different models for wither clearance, and well as the 6 shim pockets. I’ll keep that one in mind!

This is totally common in TBs. It’s practically breed standard at this point in my experience. Those shapes tend to go better in saddles with trees that have angled (versus straight) bars, with rear/front gussets, very broad panels, and cut back pommels.

I use the fleeceworks shimmable half pads and I love them

Hufglocken (Aus based but ship worldwide) sell a sheepskin halfpad with 6 shim pockets for a fair bit less than Mattes! Comes with shims too. I have one and it is in my opinion very nice. I’ve not actually had need of the shims yet but I like knowing I’ve got that option.

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Uhhhhh… Yikes?

He is three, he is nowhere near his adult shape. I’d have sprung for the xrays myself or passed entirely, but now I’d look at body work (massage), bloodwork to check vit e and mag, and give him time off to heal. Then get a fitter out once the soreness has lessened.


I’m happy to go outside and snap a picture of the scars on my OTTB’s withers if anyone doubts the seriousness of this issue.

Saddles that look like they have plenty to too much wither clearance sink down drastically once rider is up on this horse.

OP - I might be looking for a saddle with wither gussets to help keep the saddle from sinking down on the withers. For making do with an existing saddle, I find the old school foam wither riser pads work a wee bit better as I guess the structure keeps it from compressing down and binding over the withers. Works better than my shimmable LeMieux half pad for my boy. Though to be sure he is doing the very lightest of “work”; occasional, brief, walk hacks on the buckle with the odd few steps of trot. If I wanted to do more riding with him, I’d invest in another saddle or possibly have the CAIR panels in “his” saddle replaced with wool flocking to better accommodate his withers if possible.


Mattes pads are the ones I highly recommend.

Since this TB is only 3, I would personally give this horse 6 months off. Back issues are no joke, they will return over and over if you don’t let it heal. 3 is so young for a TB. They have a lot of growing and filling out to do for the next 3-4 years.

Also look into the mastersons method. One of my girls had a back injury from slipping, and the masterson method was a key part of her rehab and actually seemed to help her develop muscle even when she wasn’t being worked.

All of mine are wide except one…so of course I don’t have a single saddle that is narrow that works hhaha. Luckily the Wintec I have works on her. She is the first narrow TB we have had.