Should you use a numnah or saddlecloth? To answer that question, you first need to know what their function is, and the difference between them.
The main difference between a numnah and a saddlecloth is that the former is roughly the shape of the saddle, and the latter is generally square. They are used to protect your horse’s back, absorb its sweat and protect the underside of the saddle. They can also be used to modify slightly the saddle fit, but it is essential — for your horse’s comfort as well as your own — that the saddle fits him properly in the first place.
Saddlecloths are made from wool, cotton or synthetic material and come in various sizes and colours, single or double thickness. Numnahs are usually made of wool or a synthetic equivalent, and are available in full-pad or half-pad. Whichever you choose is mostly a matter of choice, but numnahs tend to be more suited to horses with high withers.
Synthetic materials will, of course, be cheaper if you are on a tight budget, but wool will probably last longer, so may be more cost-effective in the long run. It also has wicking properties, which make it more comfortable for your horse and helps to regulate his body temperature.
When buying a numnah, make sure it fits the size and style of the saddle, following the contours of the saddle flaps, and doesn’t alter the saddle’s fit. You should also check with the appropriate ruling body whether your choice is “legal” in competition. For example, white numnahs or saddlecloths tend to be generally more acceptable in dressage, particularly at the higher levels, although brown or black are also seen.
For show jumping, pretty much anything goes! So you could choose your sponsor’s colours and branding, and use a saddlecloth rather than a numnah so that more of the cloth is on show. The same applies to the cross-country phase of eventing, though again white is usually used for the dressage phase.
For showing, it’s best to use a numnah, with a half-pad, if you have to use something. Numnahs are more discreet, as they follow the lines of the saddle, and can be matched to the colour of your tack. The main horse societies make no mention of numnahs or saddlecloths in their current rulebooks, but if you are worried, do call the society concerned. However, because the saddle is going on to an immaculately turned-out and supremely clean horse, neither numnah nor saddlecloth may be necessary!
Looking for a new numnah? Find a huge selection of numnahs and saddlecloths on the Derby House website.