I am a sucker for matching saddle pads and polos like anyone else, and have probably spent a small fortune (I try not to think about it) on cheap-but-cute-colorful saddle pads over the years. However, when it comes down to quality, longevity and comfort for the horse, there are two pads* I've owned–ironically in the most boring colors ever–that have stood the test of time and are worth mentioning in case anyone is currently shopping for their next pad (back away from the bright purple plaid pad, friend! It will last you one season before fading to a pukey color and you won't be able to wash it with anything else because it will bleed!!)
*Since I mostly ride Dressage these days, this review is limited to Dressage-style pads.
1. The Best Schooling Pad: Professional'S Choice Steffen Peters Luxury Shearling Dressage Pad
I have owned and used this pad for about three years now, on two different horses. It gets almost daily use and still looks almost brand-new. The shearling is so soft and lofty, shaping itself to your horse's back, providing cushion where needed under the saddle and helping to relieve pressure points. This brand is more affordable but offers the same quality and design as the "high end" brands like Mattes. Shearling/sheepskin does require a little more care and maintenance than a regular cotton pad, but I have found it very easy to clean (with this special sheepskin soap) and I love that it is a natural fiber and antibacterial. I store it under my saddle in a minimally climate controlled tack room year round and have never had any problems with it molding or smelling bad. To this day it still looks nice enough to use at horse shows, even though it's my every-day go-to schooling pad. Comes in black or white (sorry, no purple plaid...)
2. The Best Show Pad: High Point Advantage Dressage Pad
I'm absolutely crazy about this pad for Clay, because the way it is contoured makes him look a little bigger and my (short) legs a little longer. The contrasting black binding looks super sharp in the show ring. I love the cushioning and sweat-wicking effect the quilted fabric has as well. While some pads fit tightly along the back, this pad is shaped in a way that peaks slightly over the horse's spine, encouraging the horse to stretch up and use their topline correctly. My only complaint is that after washing it the quilting gets a little wrinkled (a quick ironing fixes this, so not a big deal). The price is right on this one–I have it in white for shows but am tempted to pick up a black one for schooling/clinics too.